It’s Not a Charity- It’s Just Marketing

My husband and I have never owned a changing table.

When we started having kids, we were really tight on money and space, so we had to pick and choose what was most crucial. There are certain no-brainers (like a carseat and a baby carrier). But as we went down the list of all the things we “needed” for our first baby, I realized my parents had never owned a changing table either. They raised three children and changed plenty of diapers without one and we all turned out just fine. And for that matter, my grandparents never owned a changing table, my great-grandparents had never owned a changing and my great-great grandparents… well, you get the idea. So what did people do before changing tables existed?

It’s quite simple. They changed their babies on a floor or table with some sort of changing pad underneath. Throughout thousands and thousands of years of human history, parents didn’t have changing tables and diaper changes went just fine. Ditto on Baby Einstein, Exer-saucers and baby swings. We’ve never owned a baby monitor either. The best way to keep our kids asleep was to put them in a baby carrier, so none of the sleep gadgets have ever been necessary. If you really want any of these items though, more power to you.

I went through a similar process with the flu vaccine. I remember being in college when I first started hearing admonitions to get a flu shot. I never did. I’d had the flu several times and it wasn’t pleasant, but it certainly wasn’t deathly. Maybe elderly people needed one, but I figured I’d probably be fine. I rarely got the flu anyway. And, I reasoned, it’s not like the flu was a serious disease like other diseases that vaccines existed for. (Of course at the time I didn’t know that according to the CDC, the flu shot is actually less effective in elderly and infant populations, the people who are supposed to be at the greatest risk for flu complications. It’s considered most effective in young, healthy people who are least likely to get sick to begin with. Now that’s some good marketing!)

However, I noticed many people who were buying in- literally- to the whole flu shot thing. All of the sudden, an illness that these people had once considered an unpleasant, though not serious, part of life suddenly became a crisis. I saw friends running out to get to flu shots, standing in line, calling their pediatrician’s office repeatedly to see if the flu shot was available. Despite having the flu themselves multiple times and recovering just fine, my friends were now convinced that the flu was a lethal threat to their health and their children’s health. (And even if they became sick after getting a flu shot they still extolled its virtues.) Suddenly something they had never needed before became indispensable.

Of course the same thing is happening for Millennial parents with chickenpox, rotavirus, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Our generation is doing the same thing our parents did- buying into marketing messages that the diseases we and our grandparents, parents and friends lived through are deadly. It was interesting to hear my parents reasoning on why they felt I needed to have the MMR vaccine even though they had had measles (and mumps and rubella) as children and did just fine. My dad said that truly the measles wasn’t a big deal to anyone when he was a kid, but the doctors said that all babies should get an MMR vaccine now so he figured they knew best. My mother said that no one understood how big a threat measles was at the time. My mother-in-law said that she had to spend a few days at home with the shades drawn and that was simply too awful to allow anyone to endure- even for lifelong immunity. It’s marketing, folks. Convince people that they need something they didn’t think they needed before.

Now, it’s at this point when most people will start saying that I just don’t understand how terrible things were during the pre-vaccine era, that I’ve gotten used to a world where I don’t have to live in fear of deathly illnesses taking my child’s life and that I simply take it for granted. That type of “post-reality thinking” is a problem. Llike the number of people who have gotten used to living in a USA that is still relatively free and prosperous and now think the government stages shootings and terrorist attacks to keep people fearful and keep the military and police around). But I don’t think it’s a valid argument about vaccine refusal. Take a look at the public health documents from the pre-measles vaccine era or around the time the polio vaccine was introduced. There’s no talk of massive deaths from measles. In fact, the the Vital Statistics Report on mortality in the US between 1900 and 1950 is actually quite optimistic about the future of the public and mentions nothing about measles being a serious public health threat. The Vital Statistics Report from 1955 states that the polio vaccine couldn’t be responsible for the decrease in polio deaths because polio had decreased across all age groups not just children- who were the primary recipients of the polio vaccine.

Yes, popular thought is that this type of line of thinking is just a fallacy, but maybe the problem is a sort of reverse fantasy- that measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox really were serious threats and we live in a world that is so much safer because of pharmaceutical technology. After buying into vaccination, we have to tell ourselves a story about why we need it now.

Proponents of vaccination seem to believe that vaccines are practically a charitable cause for pharmaceutical companies- something that makes very little money but has enormous benefit. It’s all marketing. The same thing that spurs us on to buy the handbag with the designer label, spend huge amounts on a wedding (even though spending large amounts on a wedding is correlated with higher divorce rates), and get that changing table, play mat and baby swing.

 

Advertisements

How To Argue With Under-informed “Science” Magazines and Their Well-Intentioned Writers: A Guide

“What are we supposed to do? We’ve already funded our own research center!”- Lucky Strike Tobacco executive in “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”, Mad Men, Episode 1, Season 1

Popular Science is an interesting name for a magazine. My understanding has always been that popularity and science don’t necessarily always go hand-in-hand. After all, some of the greatest scientific discoveries and theories have been the most unpopular (like Ignaz Semmelweiss’ research on hand washing, the heliocentric model of the solar system and the theory of evolution). So perhaps you can understand why I raise an eyebrow at a magazine that touts itself as being both scientific and popular. Indeed, it forces a choice on said publication as to where their loyalties lie. Is this publication more interested in being popular or being scientific?

The 2013 article from Popular Science seems to be much more grounded in the “popular” part of its name than the “science”. Written by Francie Diep and titled “How to Argue With The Anti-Vaccine Crazies: A Guide”, this smug little article claims to be a fact-based guide preparing people to refute common anti-vaccine questions and claims. Unfortunately, it looks at popular arguments rather than examining larger issues backed up by credible research. Quotes from the article will appear in italics. You can read the full text (which is far shorter than my analysis here) at the link above. For those of you who remember the infamous Kristen Bell post, this is another one to strap in for as I have gone to great pains to be very thorough in my research and explanation. And as always, I see new connections every time I do one of these grand dissections. I think that is what I love most about writing this blog. So here we go…

CLAIM: Historically, recommended vaccines have been shown to harm children. Why would today’s recommendations be any different?

Yes, some older vaccines had severer side effects than current ones do. I’ll look at two examples, polio and pertussis, which is commonly known as whooping cough.

No one has gotten polio from the newer polio vaccine. Before 2000, pediatricians in the U.S. routinely gave kids a polio vaccine that contained live, attenuated polio virus. Now, American kids get a vaccine with an “inactivated,” or killed, virus. Very rarely, the live virus in the older vaccine could actually revert to its natural state and cause paralysis, a tragic consequence.

Some people in the world still deal with this risk. Live, attenuated polio vaccines are used in some regions where polio is endemic because those who get the live, attenuated vaccine are able to pass on their immunity to others around them, which helps spread immunity more quickly. People are also able to take the live, attenuated vaccine by mouth, instead of in a shot, so it’s quicker and easier to get to people in regions where there are few doctors and nurses. Different countries must judge the risks and benefits of the oral polio vaccine differently; even the U.S. had once judged the live, attenuated vaccine worth the risk, when there was nothing better available.

No one has gotten polio from the newer polio vaccine.

Before the 1990s, kids in the U.S. got a pertussis vaccine with severe potential side effects ranging from fever to fainting fits. Some parents sued vaccine manufacturers, claiming that the shot caused brain damage. Scientists have since determined that the parents’ claim is unproven. U.S. doctors now use a new pertussis vaccine with milder side effects.

Of course, it’s up to everyone to decide individually whether the risks of a medicine outweigh its benefits. Consider the numbers around vaccines, though. Often, something like 1 in 1,000 kids experience moderate side effects such as prolonged crying. For more severe side effects, such as seizures or that rotavirus-caused bowel blockage, the odds go down to one in tens of thousands.

Among children who contract measles, one in 1,000 get encephalitis, an acute brain infection, and one or two in 1,000 die. In 2011, among the 18,000 Americans who got whooping cough that year, more than 1 in 2,000 died, all of them babies.

Alright, let’s get started with polio. I think we can safely assume that Diep is referring to the issue of the live virus oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) versus inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV), though this article fails to actually use such precise terminology. The OPV was indeed discontinued in the US in 2000 because of vaccine acquired paralytic polio (VAPP). Diet’s assertion is  “No one has gotten polio from the newer polio vaccine.” This is an oversimplification of a much more complex issue. (First of all, the OPV and IPV were developed in a very close time frame, pretty much simultaneously, so to say that the IPV is “newer” is inaccurate.)  Provocative poliomyelitis is a medically documented condition in which polio is brought on by a surgery, intramuscular injection or other medical procedure. It was well documented to be associated with the DTP vaccination, but any type of intramuscular injection can induce provocative polio. Because of this, some countries like India actually advocate for the usage of the OPV because they feel it is safer than the risks of the provocative polio from the IPV.

Provocative polio has been well-documented to follow intramuscular injection, for further information I recommend taking a look at the 1949 J.K. Martin study titled Local Paralysis in Children After Injections,  the 1998 study by Drs. Matthias Gromeier and  Eckard Wimmer which found that injury to tissue to during certain types of injections allowed the polio virus easy access to nerve channels, thereby increasing the likelihood of paralysis and the more recent HV Wyatt study from 2003 which found that three-quarters of children with paralytic polio receive injections just before the onset of paralysis. And really, if we are going to get technical, the Salk vaccine has been documented to cause polio as in the case of the 1955 Cutter Incident. Though the general public has received a highly simplified (and not entirely accurate) account where an entirely selfless Jonas Salk eradicated polio, the controversy about which is more effective and safe, the Salk IPV or Sabin OPV has continued to be debated amongst scientists.

Live, attenuated polio vaccines are used in some regions where polio is endemic because those who get the live, attenuated vaccine are able to pass on their immunity to others around them, which helps spread immunity more quickly. Ah, the fanciful thinking of vaccine proponents attributing all sorts of powers to vaccines that don’t actually exist. It seems Ms. Diep needs a refresher in how vaccines are supposed to work. Vaccines don’t contain “immunity” and they don’t allow people to “pass immunity” to one another- that would defeat the point of mass vaccination and herd immunity which she claims to believe in later in her article. Vaccines contain live or weakened viruses or bacteria that when introduced to the body are supposed to “train” the immune system to recognize and reject the pathogens, supposedly allowing the vaccine recipient to gain immunity without actually suffering the illness. However, while you can’t “pass immunity” through the OPV, the OPV can give an immunodeficient recipient the poliovirus which they may excrete for several years, passing it to others. This is a significant issue with the worldwide eradication of polio, especially in countries with a a high number of HIV infected individuals.

You can still develop paralysis from enteroviruses other than polio. Since polio is said to be eliminated from the United States, these types of enteroviruses are called non-polio enteroviruses. The CDC states that these viruses (often manifesting as cold-like illnesses in the summer and fall) often produce no symptoms or mild symptoms, but can cause serious infection and paralysis.  Curiously enough, despite the fact that so-called non-polio enteroviruses can potentially cause the same serious effects as polio, there is no vaccine for them and in fact the CDC recommends hand washing and good hygiene to prevent transmission. The United States has started seeing an increase in children with paralysis from enteroviruses as well.

Moving on to DTP vs DTaP… (Again, Diep has not specified which vaccines she is referring to, but judging by the context, it is reasonable to infer that she is referring to the whole-cell live virus diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis shot (DTP) and the inactivated virus diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis shot (DTaP).) “Some parents sued vaccine manufacturers, claiming that the shot caused brain damage. Scientists have since determined that the parents’ claim is unproven. U.S. doctors now use a new pertussis vaccine with milder side effects.” 

It sounds like what Diep is referring to hear is the 1980’s controversy over SIDS and DTP, though her account glosses over some pertinent facts. During the 1970’s and 1980’s there were many complaints of death and injury regarding the DTP shot as well as the influenza vaccine and OPV. In 1980, the Office of Technology Assessment was asked by the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee to put together a memorandum on the possibility of a federally funded vaccine injury compensation program. This is a very interesting read and highly informative. The full memorandum can be found here.

From the OTA:

“As there is no one ‘at fault’ for these reactions, the injured vaccinee would not be able to successfully sue the manufacturer, doctor, or other defendant in a lawsuit based on negligence; e.g., faulty manufacturing of the vaccine such that it was contaminated, or faulty vaccination such that a nerve was damaged by the injection. However, the courts have developed a legal basis for a potentially successful lawsuit in the doctrines of ‘informed consent’ and (1) the ‘duty to warn.’ l)a person about to be vaccinated should be given a clear explanation of the benefits of vaccination and of the potential side-effects that might occur; and (2) someone in the chain from manufacturer to purchaser (such as a state or federal health agency) to the person who administers the vaccine bears the responsibility to give that explanation.

There has been considerable difficulty in determining what constitutes an adequate warning and whether or not a truly informed decision had been made to be vaccinated (the ultimate test of whether the condition had been satisfied takes place by hindsight in a lawsuit, when the injury has already occurred and the answer is crucial to the success or failure of the lawsuit). Furthermore, ‘informed consent’ and the ‘duty to warn’ imply that the potential vaccinee can refuse the vaccination, but almost all states require that children receive certain vaccinations as a condition of attending school.”

So there are legal grounds for suits that can apply to vaccines because people may not be fully informed of the actual benefits and risks associated with vaccines and because in many cases people are legally required to receive vaccines- and more states are limiting options to refuse for things like school or employment. Along with these legal grounds for suit, people can and have successfully sued in court for vaccine injury.

From the OTA:

The report noted that in three major cases in the past 11 years, plaintiffs have won large judgments against vaccine manufacturers for injuries caused by non-defective and properly administered vaccines. The resulting uncertainty for manufacturers has affected their willingness to produce and supply vaccines.” Note that the vaccines didn’t necessarily have to be defective or improperly administered to cause a serious injury- which implies that some aspect of vaccines or the process of vaccination is inherently risky. However, the belief that vaccines were an essential part of maintaining public health overrules any questions about whether we should be implementing mass vaccination programs.

In the late 1980’s, the US government instituted the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program administered through the Health Resources and Services Administration, a federal public health agency. In the HRSA’s own words, the purpose of the VICP is as follows:

“The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (PDF), as amended, created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), a no-fault alternative to the traditional tort system. It provides compensation to people found to be injured by certain vaccines. Even in cases in which such a finding is not made, petitioners may receive compensation through a settlement.

The VICP was established after lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers and healthcare providers threatened to cause vaccine shortages and reduce vaccination rates. The Program began accepting petitions (also called claims) in 1988.”

Now back to DTP specifically. As of 1988, 3,982 petitions have been filed about the DTP vaccine. 3,286 petitions were for injury and 696 were for deaths. 1,273 were compensated and 2,706 were dismissed. Compensation does not mean an admission of guilt that the vaccine caused the injury, often it can mean simply that a negotiated settlement was reached, often with a desire to avoid the cost and expense of litigating a case. The government just pays people to make the problem of vaccine lawsuits go away and is doing it now more than ever. DTP still holds the VICP record for most claims filed, though influenza vaccines are catching up and slightly more compensations have been made for influenza vaccines than DTP at this point.

On to the issue that scientists have now proven parents’ claims of death and injury to be unproven. In the late 1980’s several studies started coming out in response to claims that DTP caused SIDS. Dr. James Cherry of UCLA was at the forefront of the movement to discredit a relationship between the two and has since participated in many other studies and works advocating the further need for use and continued to development of the pertussis vaccine. There is one possible problem with Dr. Cherry though. He has a substantial conflict of interest because he has served as a consultant for GlaxoKlineSmith Biologicals and Sanofi Pasteur for pertussis vaccines. Another article he worked on contains this financial disclosure: “Dr. Cherry has given talks in programs supported directly and through program grants by Sanofipasteur and GlaxoSmithKline. Dr Cherry has consulted about pertussis vaccines with Sanofipasteur and GlaxoSmithKline.” Interestingly enough, Andrew Wakefield has been roundly condemned for conflicts of interest, though that argument has not been seen as a legitimate reason for questioning the research of scientists like Dr. Cherry. As for the infants who die from pertussis, the numbers are not in dispute, but the ability of the pertussis vaccine to actually prevent the spread of the disease is highly debatable and will be addressed later on herein.

On to measles. Measles has become kind of a “boogeyman” that lurks in the closet. The reality is that before the measles vaccine was introduced, people were probably less afraid of it than they are now and that we have far more deadly threats than measles in the 21st century that don’t get nearly as much media attention. The 1953 report from the office of Vital Statistics shows that measles deaths were approximately 13 per 100,000 in 1918 for an estimated population of 103, 208,000. But by by 1950, measles deaths had fallen far below 1 in 100,000. This report states that while infectious diseases like diphtheria, measles and whooping cough were responsible for 242.6 per 100,000 deaths in children under 15 in the early twentieth century, by 1950 these diseases combined accounted for only 5 deaths per 100,000 for children under 15. Take note that the measles vaccine was not introduced until 1963. (MMR became available in 1971  and the DTP vaccine started mass usage in 1948.) Ironically enough, this report is glowing with optimism about the state of health in America, while we perceive this to be a time of rampant disease and death.

The CDC’s official statement on measles reads: “In the United States, measles caused 450 reported deaths and 4,000 cases of encephalitis annually before measles vaccine became available in the mid-1960s.” So by the CDC’s standard, 450 deaths and 4,000 cases of an illness is a serious public health impact. How does this compare with other causes of death today? According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 15,780 children will be diagnosed with cancer this year and 1,960 children will die from cancer. Most of these childhood cancer cases will be leukemia, brain and nervous system cancers, and lymphoma. Much has been said about the great burden and cost that fighting measles would entail if the disease was to become endemic, but cancer is already far more common and far more costly to treat. Here’s another example. According to the CDC, in 2013 2 million people developed antibiotic resistant bacterial infections and 23,000 died as a result of an antibiotic resistant bacterial infection.   That’s far in excess of the numbers the CDC cites for measles death before the vaccine was introduced!

While we praise the lower rates of measles cases today (which can be disputed as well, we’ll get to that in a minute), the actual death rate from measles has actually increased since the mid-twentieth century. In 1912, the case fatality rate for measles in the United States was 25 per 1,000 and 30-40 per 1,000 in Scotland at the beginning of the 20th century. Those numbers declined to approximately 1 per 1,000 in the United States and the United Kingdom by the mid 20th century. Today the mortality rate for measles in approximately 3 per 1,000. The authors state: “This increase is most likely due to more complete reporting of measles as a cause of death, HIV infections, and a higher proportion of cases among preschool-aged children and adults.”

Better reporting could be debatable (again we’ll get to non-classical measles in a minute), though the emergence of HIV certainly added a new variable to the measles equation that had not been seen before. The other interesting thing is the higher proportion of cases among children under 5 and adults. If you check out Table 2 of this study, it will show you the rates of complications for measles cases between 1987 and 2000 by age group. As you can see, school age children (the group most likely to get measles before routine measles vaccination) are actually the least likely to suffer complications. However, children under 5 and adults have a greater risk for complications, with adults over 30 having the greatest risk for severe complications like encephalitis and death. In our haste to prevent the spread of measles in our schools, we have overlooked the fact that school age children as a group have the fewest complications for measles and if they do contract the virus they gain lifelong immunity. Instead, when the measles vaccination does grant temporary immunity to children, it can leave them open to measles as adults when they are more prone to serious complications.

CLAIM: It is dangerous for little babies to get so many vaccines at one time. The immune system can get overwhelmed.

Babies really do get a lot of vaccines at once. Their first round alone includes six shots. And the list of recommended childhood vaccines has grown in recent decades, as researchers have developed more and more immunizations.

States with lenient policies about immunization exemptions had 90 percent more whooping cough cases than stricter states.However, numerous studieshave found no link between getting the recommended schedule of vaccines and getting other diseases later in childhood. There’s no credible scientific evidence that vaccines are able to “overload” babies’ immune systems. Though immature, babies’ systems are prepared to handle vaccines. They already handle numerous viruses and bacteria all around them in everyday life.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend vaccines at very young ages because that’s when kids are the most vulnerable, as some of the natural immunization they got from breastfeeding fades.

“States with lenient policies about immunization exemptions had 90 percent more whooping cough cases than stricter states.” Now this is an interesting claim since the pertussis vaccine has had a number of problems with efficacy.

However, numerous studieshave found no link between getting the recommended schedule of vaccines and getting other diseases later in childhood. There’s no credible scientific evidence that vaccines are able to “overload” babies’ immune systems.

Now there were a couple of interesting things here. The study about how there are no cognitive delays in fully vaccinated versus children who do not meet the definition of fully vaccinated has a couple of questionable things about it. First of all is the financial disclosure : “Drs Smith and Woods are or have been unfunded subinvestigators for cross-coverage purposes on vaccine clinical trials for which their colleagues receive funding from Wyeth, Sanofi Pasteur, GSK, MedImmune, and Novartis; and Dr Woods has received honoraria for speaking engagements from Merck, Sanofi Pasteur, Pfizer, and MedImmune and has received research funding from Wyeth and Sanofi Pasteur.” So again, it’s something to consider. If we’re uncomfortable accepting research about autism and vaccination from someone who has financial conflicts of interest, in the nature of scientific inquiry, we should be willing to apply a similar standard to research that supports vaccination.

Another potential problem with this study is what is referred to as “confounding” in statistics. If you read the full text of the study, it states: “Children with later vaccine receipt had lower family household incomes in both analyses, although all groups averaged well above the poverty level. They also had lower percentages of mothers with college degrees. Finally, there were greater proportions of male children and single-parent households in the less timely groups. These differences did not reach statistical significance in the primary analyses of timely versus untimely receipt but did in the secondary analyses of most timely versus least timely receipt.” (Quick note: the term “statistical significance” means that after doing a set of calculations you can determine whether or not a particular result is due to chance or “fluke”. If something is determined to be “statistically significant”, it means that the result is not due to chance. If a result does not reach statistical significance, it means that the result could be due to chance. This is a simplified version of the definition that doesn’t get into things like p values and the value of alpha, but for the purposes of understanding a study, it’s sufficient.)

So when the researchers in this study say their results did not reach statistical significance the first time, it means that the results did not indicate a strong correlation between vaccination status and cognitive function in their first analysis. But they ran a second analysis and say their results did show a strong correlation. (Which would certainly be fortunate for their interests in performing this study and getting the desired outcome.) If you take a look at Table 2, you can see that the sample sizes (value denoted as n) are different on the primary vs. secondary analysis. In the secondary analysis, the researchers compared only children classified as “most timely” and those classified as “least timely”. In certain parts of the study, the authors state that they did control for factors such as maternal education and IQ, computer experience, etc. , the multivariable analysis, but when comparing the most and least timely, there could be problems with confounding since the researchers acknowledge that there were more children in the least timely category who came from single parent homes with mothers who had lower education levels and lower incomes while more children in the most timely category had higher incomes and two parent homes with better educated parents, so if they really did just compare the most and least timely, socioeconomic factors could be responsible for the outcome in the secondary analysis. Thus, the term confounding.

Furthermore, since this study was published new vaccines and doses have been added to the American vaccine schedule so the results are less relevant with the current schedule. I wouldn’t take this study as conclusive proof that vaccination will affect your child’s cognitive abilities one way or the other. There may have been some “massaging” of the data that in my mind makes it less reliable as a source. Now that I’ve flogged that one to death, let’s take on just one more of the safety studies cited in this article…

The 2001 study by Destefano, Mullooly, Okoro, et. al. in Pediatrics concerns the timing of vaccine as a possible risk factor for developing type 1 diabetes mellitus (formerly known as juvenile diabetes). The article links off to an abstract of this study, but with a little digging, you can find the full text. The authors claim to be looking at the hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae B vaccines specifically, though the study gives results for several other vaccines including whole cell and acellular pertussis vaccines, MMR and varicella. There are a couple of interesting things going on with this study. One has to do with cases and controls. This is a case-control study, meaning that the study compares people with the disease or outcome (cases) with those who do not have the disease or outcome (controls or referent). This study is a little hazy about what they actually qualify as a control. In the case of Hepatitis B vaccination, those who had never been vaccinated for Hepatitis B were used as the referent. (We can assume that all the children had received at least some vaccines as the study later states that all the cases and controls had received the MMR vaccine.) The referent switches on the data for Hib vaccination to children who had received 3 doses by 8 months plus 1 dose at 12–18 months. Referents are not specified for either of the pertussis vaccines, MMR or varicella. (It seems it would be difficult to come up with a referent for MMR since all the children in this study had received the shot.) A big weakness that I see in this study is that half of the cases were born between 1988 and 1990, meaning that they were on a vaccine schedule with fewer vaccines than the children in the study who were born between 1991-1997.

CLAIM: Vaccines have dangerous ingredients in them.

One of McCarthy’s–and other vaccine opponents’–most popular claims is that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once common in vaccines, causes autism. There’s so much evidence showing thimerosal doesn’t cause autism.

Nevertheless, thimerosal no longer appears in any vaccines except influenza because an infant receiving the recommended schedule of old vaccines would get a higher-than-recommended dose of mercury, which is toxic in high levels.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has more information on the ingredients in vaccines. They are not dangerous.

Thimerosal may be dubious. Personally, I think it’s possible that the symptoms described by many parents like Jenny McCarthy might be due to encephalitis- which is a legitimately acknowledged side effect of live virus vaccines. The Merck Manual Home Edition states that autoimmune encephalitis can be caused when “A virus or vaccine triggers a reaction that makes the immune system attack brain tissue (an autoimmune reaction).”  (I consider the Merck Manual to be a reliable source of information, do you?) If you would like a second opinion, the Mayo Clinic’s website states: “Secondary encephalitis often occurs two to three weeks after the initial infection. Rarely, secondary encephalitis occurs as a complication of a live virus vaccination.”

Now getting into the actual link cited here, the page was written by Dr. Paul Offit. He is one of the developers of the Rotateq vaccine and has gotten a great deal of media attention lately from news articles applauding his hard line stance against parents who want to selective/delay vaccinate or not vaccinate at all and from his involvement with the PBS documentary “The War on Vaccines”. Despite his claims that alternative medicine and figures like Dr. Sears take advantage of parents’ feelings and media attention, Dr. Offit receives the same kind of attention and it has made him (and the Rotateq vaccine) more and more prominent. Frankly, I don’t find him a credible authority on vaccines because of the following:

  • A tendency to overdramatize- For a sampling of Dr. Offit’s tactics, take a look at this interview PBS did with him for the ever so diplomatically named documentary, “The War on Vaccines”. You will actually read him calling not vaccinating for measles as playing Russian roulette. We’re talking about a disease with a fraction of the morbidity and mortality of cancer in the United States. For comparison, recall that the CDC states that  “In the United States, measles caused 450 reported deaths and 4,000 cases of encephalitis annually before measles vaccine became available in the mid-1960s.” Here are the estimates of numbers for cancer in the United States for 2016 from the American Cancer Society:

    “About 1,685,210 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2016 and… about 595,690 Americans are expected to die of cancer in 2016, which translates to about 1,630 people per day.” (And by the way, heart disease causes even more deaths in the United States annually than cancer does.) And here is Dr. Offit trying to convince us that measles will be a serious health impact?! But remember it’s extremely important for his Rotateq vaccine and his position as vaccine developer and expert that parents and pediatricians not question the current vaccine schedule and believe that death and destruction will  follow from not vaccinating. If parents start questioning which vaccines are necessary, rotavirus will probably be one of the first on the chopping block because it’s extremely rare for a child in a developed country to actually die from the disease and all of us grew up just fine without it. And if we start questioning that, then we start asking about why we need to vaccinate for chickenpox (which was a mild illness when we were growing up and not a cause for concern), and then we’ll start questioning measles and mumps (which were considered mild illnesses when our parents were growing up and not a cause for concern). Pretty soon, the entire vaccine industry would be losing a lot of money. So yes, characterizing measles as “Russian roulette” is not an accurate representation and instead sells parents and healthcare providers an inaccurate picture of risks that favors Dr. Offit’s interests.

    Bigotry- If you’re on the right side of the debate (the side that believes vaccines are the answer and the more the better), you are rational and well-informed and without any competing interests. If you don’t vaccinate or selective/delay vaccinate or support such decisions, you are selfish, ignorant and have ulterior motives, based on attention or profit. He claims it doesn’t matter that he has a profit interest in vaccines, because his vaccine works. Dr. Offit claims in his interview that a study comparing parents who vaccinate and don’t vaccinate would be fundamentally flawed because parents who vaccinate and those don’t are so fundamentally different. Parent who don’t vaccinate, he claims would be less likely to think their child has a problem because they think that not vaccinating will prevent developmental problems and other health problems. He does not think that parents who vaccinate could be subject to the same prejudice in reverse. PBS should be ashamed to be disseminating such bigotry, but they don’t seem to be able to pull their heads out and see this sort of “snow job” for the prejudice it is, they’re simply too set in the mindset that we must vaccinate or die to see anything else. But remember folks, when people were protesting on the steps of Little Rock High School about integration, they weren’t doing it because they considered themselves ignorant, prejudiced, bigoted, uninformed or hateful. They were doing it because they believed integration to be a genuine threat to their children’s health and safety and could point to research showing that people from other ethnicities were inferior to back up their stance. That’s the great thing about bigotry. It’s easy to see it in other decades and places, but not in our time and place.

    Can he even get his facts straight? I was not impressed with his scare story of a pertussis outbreak in Delaware and I’m a little suspicious of whether he is even presenting accurate facts on this incident. He says that in 2006 there was an outbreak of pertussis in Delaware that was reported in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and that most of the incidents of pertussis were in school age children ages 5-9. I have not been able to find a MMWR bulletin that meets this particular description. However, I did find one that detailed a pertussis outbreak in Kent County, Delaware in an Amish community during September 2004 through February 2005. This was published on August 4, 2006. This report details that most of the cases were preschool age children. (And in fact the charts published with this report showed that the breakdown by age group of pertussis cases in the Amish community differs substantially from the United States as a whole. The majority of the pertussis cases in the United States actually occur in adults with children ages 11-14 second. If this is the outbreak of pertussis he was referring to, there is something very ironic about it. Of the 123 patients ages 6 months to 5 years in the interviewed Amish households, almost one in four (24%) had records of receiving three or more doses of DTP or DTaP. (And another 5% had records of receiving 1 or 2 doses of DTP or DTaP.) The rate of vaccination for the interviewed households where clinical pertussis had been discovered was 45% not vaccinating any children, 42% vaccinating at least some children and 14% declined to give information about vaccination status. So out of the 40 households with at least one clinical pertussis case reporting at least some level of vaccination, 35 cases of pertussis were present. And out of 43 households with at least one pertussis case reporting no vaccination, 88 cases were present. But then of course, this may not account for vaccinated cases that do not meet the clinical definition, as noted above.

    And the things he won’t tell you about his Rotateq vaccine from the Clinical Microbiology Reviews

Rotateq: “Diarrhea and vomiting occurred more frequently among vaccine recipients than among placebo recipients. The efficacy of RotaTeq was evaluated in two phase III trials (1085). In these trials, the efficacy of RotaTeq against rotavirus gastroenteritis of any severity after completion of a three-dose regimen was 74%, and that against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis was 98%. RotaTeq also proved to be strongly efficacious in preventing rotavirus gastroenteritis of any severity caused by the predominant G1 serotype (75% efficacy) and the G2 serotype (63% efficacy). There was a trend toward efficacy for the remaining serotypes, but patient numbers were too small to show statistical significance (83% efficacy for G3, 48% efficacy for G4, and 65% efficacy for G9). The efficacy of RotaTeq in reducing the number of office visits for rotavirus gastroenteritis and in reducing the number of emergency department visits and hospitalizations for rotavirus gastroenteritis was evaluated in a large study. (85). The efficacy of RotaTeq in reducing the number of office visits for rotavirus gastroenteritis among 5,673 subjects and in reducing the number of emergency department visits and hospitalizations for rotavirus gastroenteritis among 68,038 subjects over the first 2 years of life was evaluated. RotaTeq reduced the incidence of office visits by 86%, emergency department visits by 94%, and hospitalizations for rotavirus gastroenteritis by 96%. Efficacy against all gastroenteritis hospitalizations of any etiology was 59%. The efficacy of RotaTeq in the second rotavirus season after immunization was 63% against rotavirus gastroenteritis of any severity and 88% against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis.”

In other words:

  • Children who receive the Rotateq vaccine may be sick with diarrhea and vomiting more frequently than those who do not.
  • Success rate for Rotateq is largely concerned with reducing office and emergency visits, not necessarily preventing actual rotavirus infections.
  • The Rotateq vaccine protects against particular strains of rotavirus. Its efficacy against other strains has not been determined with certainty.
  • Efficacy of Rotateq against all rotavirus infections of any severity is below 80%- nowhere near enough to establish herd immunity- a concept that Dr. Offit actively promotes.
  • The efficacy of Rotateq diminishes over time.

So, no, I’m not too confident in anything Dr. Offit has to say about vaccination.

Aside from Dr. Offit, I personally think there are some interesting issues with vaccine excipients that still are worth studying beyond thimerosal.  For example:

Adjuvants are the other chemicals frequently found in vaccines.

FAQ’s from the CDC about vaccine safety say that adjuvants are put in vaccines “to enhance the immune response of vaccinated individuals”. However, if you dig around in immunology literature, you’ll find a few more interesting details about adjuvants.

Let’s start with immunologist Charles Janeway. Janeway did a significant amount of research into what he called “the immunologist’s dirty little secret”– that the presence of foreign antigens alone are often not enough to elicit a response from the immune system. In fact, it has been well known amongst immunologists for a long time that the presence of bacteria and viruses is often not enough to induce a response from the immune system. This is why scientists routinely add substances like mineral oil, bovine serum albumin and mineral salts like aluminum hydroxide to their experiments to get a reaction from the immune system.

So while we’ve been told that vaccines work by imitating an infection which then leaves the body with T- and B-lymphoctes which tell it how to fight the infection in the future, it’s not the bacteria or viruses that are causing the immune reaction, it’s the adjuvants.

Adjuvants are responsible for many of the reactions to vaccines. Table 5 from Edelman’s section on adjuvants in Vaccine Adjuvants: Preparation Methods and Research Protocols details the “Real and Theoretical Risks of Vaccine Adjuvants” which include:

  • Local or acute chronic inflammation with formation of painful abcesses, persistent nodules or draining lymphadenopathy (enlargement of the lymph nodes typically associated with cancer or infection).
  • Flu-like illness with fever
  • Anaphylaxis (a whole body allergic reaction)
  • Chemical toxicity to tissues or organs
  • autoimmune arthritis, amyloidosis, (a condition in which abnormal protein buildup is deposited in an organ of the body) anterior uveitis (inflammation of the eye which can ultimately cause blindness).
  • Cross reactions with human tissue antigens causing glomurelonephritis (inflammation of the filters in the kidneys) or meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the brian and meninges that can result in speech and motor impairment, epilepsy and intellectual deficits; ironically, vaccination is often recommended as a way to prevent encephalitis and meningoencephalitis.)
  • Immune suppression (Aren’t vaccines supposed to enhance, the immune system, not compromise it? If they’re suppressing the immune system, then what’s the point?)
  • Carcinogenesis (See my post on cancer and vaccines.)
  • Teratogenesis (causes birth defects) or abortogenesis (causes abortion or miscarriage).
  • Spread of a live vectored vaccine to the environment.

Edelman doesn’t care to explicitly state which of these risks are “real” and which are “theoretical”.

CLAIM: It’s not like a parent’s decision not to vaccinate his child harms other kids.

Vaccinated kids generally won’t get sick from the preventable diseases that they’ve been inoculated against. However, if a non-vaccinated kid gets sick with a preventable disease, there are still several people he may infect beyond non-vaccinated classmates.

What do you consider “generally won’t get sick”? Is this what you consider “generally won’t get sick”?

Which one of these examples do you feel fits the description of “generally won’t get sick”?

He may infect babies that haven’t yet been scheduled to receive their vaccines. He may also infect the small percentage of kids for whom their immunizations don’t work, as immunizations aren’t 100 percent effective. The measles vaccine, for example, is more than 95 percent effective—very good, but not perfect.

Well, the CDC tells a very different story than respected vaccinologist Dr. Gregory Poland. To quote the article referenced: “Dr. Poland is no vaccine denier. Not only is he among the harshest and most outspoken critics of the ‘irrationality of the antivaccinationists,’ he is also one of the strongest proponents for vaccines and the good that they can do. As Professor of Medicine and founder and leader of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, one of the world’s largest vaccine research organizations; as editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Vaccine; as recipient of numerous awards; as chair of vaccine data monitoring committees for pharmaceutical giant Merck; as patent holder in various vaccines processes; as someone who enjoys special employee status with the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Defense and as someone who has sat on every federal committee that has dealt with vaccines, no one can accuse him of seeing vaccines from a narrow perspective.”

Dr. Poland has stated that the MMR shot is not effective at preventing measles on a wide scale. He says that the MMR vaccine is far less effective than anticipated and that immunity from it quickly wanes. To quote again: “During the 1989-1991 U.S. outbreaks, 20 per cent to 40 per cent of those affected had received one to two doses. In a 2011 outbreak in Canada, “over 50 per cent of the 98 individuals had received two doses of measles vaccine… People’s failure to get vaccinated is deplorable, Dr. Poland often stresses. But the more fundamental problem stems from the vaccine being less effective in real life than predicted, with a too-high failure rate — between 2 per cent and 10 per cent don’t develop expected antibodies after receiving the recommended two shots. Because different people have different genetic makeups, the vaccine is simply a dud in many, failing to provide the protection they think they’ve acquired. To make matters worse, even when the vaccine takes, the protection quickly wanes, making it unrealistic to achieve the 95 per cent-plus level of immunity in the general population thought necessary to protect public health. For example, 9 per cent of children having two doses of the vaccine, as public health authorities now recommend, will have lost their immunity after just seven and a half years. As more time passes, more lose their immunity. ‘This leads to a paradoxical situation whereby measles in highly immunized societies occurs primarily among those previously immunized,’ Dr. Poland stated.”

And just like pertussis, vaccinated individuals can contract measles and not present with classical measles symptoms and may not be detected by tests for typical wild measles cases. And this isn’t coming from some “natural news” site, it’s coming from the 2009 Journal of Infectious Diseases. It contains an article about nonclassical measles in two fully vaccinated physicians which can be found here. It discusses a number of aspects of the disease eradication program and the role of vaccination. Little is really known about the full impact of modified/nonclassical measles because it is rarely given any consideration as a diagnosis and remains a little researched subject.  “To complicate matters, nonclassic cases of measles in vaccinated persons may be identified, which must be investigated. Often the symptoms are mild and resolve rapidly and, outside of the context of an outbreak or known exposure to a measles case patient, the nonclassic presentation might not raise suspicion of measles.” Also discusses the role of the lack of wild measles virus on the disease: “… the rate of nonclassic infection is likely to increase as measles control improves in a population, because boosting from exposure to wild-type measles virus will be rare. ” (In other words, the wild virus primes the immune system and if eliminated will not be present to “remind” the immune system of what it is supposed to be fighting.) Also discusses difficulties with detecting cases of nonclassical measles in vaccinated individuals because the usual IgM method used for measles diagnosis confirmation is unreliable in nonclassical cases.

Since the publication of that article in 2009, a 2011 outbreak of measles in New York was traced to a woman who was fully vaccinated. So while the media, the healthcare profession and this “science” magazine are implicating non-vaccinated individuals as ignorant specimens of humanity passing around horrendous diseases, we know that fully vaccinated individuals can contract non-typical forms of so-called “vaccine preventable diseases” and pass them on to others. Unfortunately, we don’t know the full public health impact of it because it isn’t being studied widely and most of the time individuals aren’t being tested for these diseases if they are up to date on their vaccines.

CLAIM: There’s nothing wrong with spacing out my child’s vaccines, if I want to.

Delaying a vaccine just means there’s that much longer a window for an unimmunized child to get sick. Limiting the number of doctor’s visits children need to get all their shots also helps more families stick to the recommended schedule and reduces the costs of vaccination.

“A longer window for an unimmunized child to get sick.” Well let’s talk about long windows for getting sick and the consequences. If you take above cited statistics on the measles, for example, the highest rates of morbidity and mortality are not in children, but adults- which is why developing the measles as a school age child and then having life long immunity could actually be more ideal from a health perspective. We actually do things backwards where we are immunizing school age children and then leaving them open to future infection as adults when the stakes are actually higher. The same actually goes for many other diseases like rubella and chicken pox (pregnancy complications) and mumps (infection to testicles in adolescent boys). A better strategy might actually be to forego vaccinating children for these diseases and vaccinate adults and teens who do not have demonstrated immunity through blood titers test.

How about the flu? What window of time applies to flu vaccination? Recently the flu mist vaccine was found to be almost completely ineffective against influenza after being the recommended choice for children for several years and after several studies from the manufacturer which pointed to it being highly effective. (The manufacturer stands by its studies even though real world observations have proven otherwise, prompting its downgrade from preferred method for children). And even when flu vaccines do work against the strains contained in them, they don’t work against other strains.

And side note: This article claims that vaccines just aren’t profitable for pharmaceutical companies to research and produce.  Let’s just take a quick look at that. Bringing up our dear friend Dr. Offit, he wrote an article in 2005 saying that vaccines aren’t profitable and predicting dire consequences from a lack of vaccine development, and in the past eleven years several new vaccines have some how made it into the regular rotation for children, adults of all ages and pregnant women. And while there are plenty of news articles out claiming otherwise, there are other voices from the medical and pharmaceutical fields saying the opposite:

“But the economics of this landscape are changing. The once low-margin vaccine market now includes blockbuster and megablockbuster products. Optimism over new candidates — including some for cancers, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and adult influenza — has led to expectations of healthy growth. Economists at the World Health Organization (WHO) report that the market has been growing at 10–15% annually, compared with 5–7% growth for other pharmaceutical segments, since 2000. That growth is expected to continue at 8% or better through 2018, reaching almost US$100 billion by 2025 (23). And some signs indicate that vaccine players may be narrowing their focus to a few areas (e.g., biosimilars) to reduce competition. Thus, an examination of the industry value chains reveals significant bottom-line potential.”- BioProcess International

“One of the new vaccines Gavi is tasked with introducing is the pneumonia vaccine (PCV), which aims to combat a major childhood killer in developing countries. A dramatic 37 per cent (or US$2.8 billion) of the total amount raised for Gavi last week from taxpayers and private foundations will go to pay for just this one high-priced vaccine, which today is produced by only two pharmaceutical giants: GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer. The two companies have made more than US$19 billion in sales off of the vaccine since its launch, yet still charge developing countries unaffordable and unsustainable prices. It’s important to point out that this vaccine was initially developed for children in wealthy countries, and its research and development costs have long been recovered.” –Stephen Cornish, Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders, Huffington Post Canada

One of my personal favorites though was actress Kristen Bell’s Huffington Post article in which she claimed that vaccines weren’t profitable and used a link to an article in The Atlantic titled “Vaccines Are Profitable. So What?” to support her claim. (Bless her heart, I do believe that Ms. Bell has the best of intentions and cares very much about making the world a better place. And yes, I enjoyed Frozen just as much as the next person.)

Going further into the flu, is it really the flu that kills or other accompanying complications? Take for example NBC’s account of a previously healthy teen athlete who supposedly died from the flu within days with no prior history of health problems. There is something very subtle going on with this article if you take a good look at it. They keep focusing you over and over again on the flu and the flu vaccine, but they mention that the boy had been diagnosed with a MRSA (methicillin resisitant staphylococcus aureus) infection and that he went into organ failure. MRSA is a nasty bacterial infection that can and does cause death by infecting the bloodstream (MRSA sepsis) and organs like the lung and heart. And it often seems like the flu at first. According to the Mayo Clinic, athletes who play contact sports are at an increased risk of contracting MRSA.

So while this boy did have influenza and he did die very suddenly and his family has focused on his story for flu shot awareness, clinically speaking, there is a very good possibility that MRSA contributed substantially to his death- even though the article keeps deflecting the issue. (For another account of a previously healthy teenage boy who contracted MRSA through contact sports and then started experiencing flu-like symptoms, see this article here from the University of Maryland Medical Center. Fortunately, this boy’s condition was found to be MRSA infection in enough time to save him, though he spent 59 days in pediatric intensive care fighting organ failure.) The family’s reaction is completely understandable. They have experienced a living nightmare and are trying to find a way to put their lives together after a tragedy. But unfortunately, there is no flu shot that can protect against MRSA. And for a further investigation into how flu deaths are even being tallied, see my flu post here. So whether you choose to get the flu shot or not, you’re not looking at some sort window of protection.

How about Hepatitis B? Does the window of infection for that one really start at birth for babies whose mothers are negative for the disease? Because statitiscally speaking, the chances of a baby contracting hepatitis B from a low-risk mother are negligible. For a more in-depth explanation of Hepatitis B risks, see my post here.

 

Beyond that, however, there’s little evidence about which alternative schedules of vaccinations is best and whether alternative schedules are better or worse than the standard schedule. The standard schedule has been studied because the vast majority of U.S. kids get it, but alternative schedules are pretty new and several different alternatives exist, so they are difficult to study. The Institute of Medicine is trying to figure out whether a study of alternative schedules is feasible.

Some delayed schedules celebrities (and celebrity doctors) have endorsed leave out some vaccinations altogether, which leave kids vulnerable to those diseases.

Well it’s not like the APA’s schedule is the gold standard either, for that matter. Many other countries follow different schedules and we don’t label these countries as a whole to be “anti-vaccine”. They all have reasons with research for the type of schedule they employ. And for that matter, adding more vaccines isn’t proof positive of lower childhood mortality either.

You can take a look at vaccine schedules from other countries like  IcelandSingaporeGreat Britain and even our neighbor to the north Canada and see that they don’t give as many vaccines as we do. For example, Great Britain does not routinely give a varicella, hepatitis A or rotavirus vaccine, nor does Singapore. Iceland doesn’t routinely give out vaccines for hepatitis A or B, rotavirus, varicella or Human Papilloma Virus. In Canada, the vaccination schedules vary from province to province and in some provinces the rotavirus vaccine is not publicly funded. And guess what? Children are still very healthy in these nations. For a quick measuring stick, let’s take under 1 year infant mortality rates from the CIA fact book: the US ranks 167th for infant mortality, the UK 187th, Singapore is 221st, and Iceland ranks 223rd. (Lower is better, it means there are fewer deaths in a given year per 1,000 live births, e.g. Iceland has 2.06 deaths per 1,000 live births and the US has 5.87 deaths per 1,000 live births. This isn’t a perfect indicator since it includes deaths due to birthing practices. It gives an indicator of the overall state of health of children under 1 year. However, a great many vaccines are administered to children under 1 year because this is when they are supposed to be the most susceptible to many diseases- which is the argument against delayed vaccination schedules.)

CLAIM: Every medicine has side effects, and I want to protect my kids.

It’s always important to know about side effects before deciding to give your kid a vaccine or another medicine.

Most of the side effects of vaccines are mild compared to the illnesses they prevent. Different vaccines may cause temporary fussiness, swelling, prolonged crying and other effects. Some babies get mild vomiting and diarrhea after the DTaP and rotavirus vaccines. (We fully acknowledge that what doctors call “mild vomiting and diarrhea” is not fun to have to take care of.)

Very rarely, kids may be severely allergic to a vaccine. Allergic reactions generally occur within hours of getting a shot. The reaction may be bad enough that a kid can’t get the rest of the shots in that series, which means he or she will have to rely on other kids being vaccinated to protect him from that disease.

1 in 20,000 to 1 in 100,000 babies who get the rotavirus vaccine get a serious bowel blockage for which they have to visit the hospital. Some will need surgery.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the potential side effects of different vaccines, though I’ve tried to cover the most severe ones. You can find out more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Well, we’re in the home stretch here folks. Let’s talk about side effects. We’re used to hearing extravagantly large numbers for vaccine side effects 1 in 4,000,000 and the like. The thing is, these rates are typically based on two variables: the number of doses of vaccines manufactured and the number of incidents reported as vaccine reactions. Let’s talk about the first variable, the number of doses manufactured. Not every dose of vaccine that is manufactured is actually administered. Obviously a vaccine can’t cause a reaction unless it is administered, so counting doses manufactured doesn’t give an accurate picture. In 1980, the Office of Technology Assessment was asked by the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee to put together a memorandum on the possibility of a vaccine injury compensation program. This is a very interesting read and highly informative. The full memorandum can be found here.

From the OTA: “Estimating the number of serious adverse vaccine reactions that occur annually in the United States cannot be accomplished with absolute certainty. There are conflicting incidence estimates for the various adverse reactions, and no one really knows how many doses of vaccine are actually administered (versus distributed) annually, particularly by private physicians. An often-used conservative rule of thumb is to estimte one-fourth wastage.” Current (last updated July 1, 2016) charts from the VICP simply use the number of doses administered between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2014 simply use the number of doses distributed according to the CDC.

The second variable is how many incidents are actually attributed to vaccine reactions. I think it is entirely possible that there is a bias on the part of physicians. They have heard that vaccine reactions, especially disabling ones or death are so incredibly rare that it is extremely unlikely that they would ever see one. So, I think it is possible that many vaccine reactions are misdiagnosed as other conditions with similar symptoms. For example, encephalitis is a known side effect of live virus vaccines, though the symptoms of disability resulting from encephalitis can be very similar to those of autism. In another example, Guillain-Barre Syndrome could be mistaken for multiple sclerosis. The above cited article on autoimmune encephalitis says that the condition often looks very much like multiple sclerosis.

Underreporting is a possibility. An interesting letter from a New York pediatrician to the British Medical Journal brought up the possibility of underreporting with an example of Kawasaki Disease and Rotateq (which I did not plan): “During the 18-year period from 1990 through 2007 just 88 cases of Kawasaki Disease in children under 5 were reported to VAERS. During the same period about 88 million U.S. children passed through the 0-5 age group; consequently the incidence rate reported to VAERS was 0.10 KD cases per 100,000 person-years. (Pediatr Infect Dis J 28:943, 2009) From 1988 to 2006 the published KD incidence for U.S. children under 5 rose from 11.0 to 20.8 per 100,000 person-years. (Pediatrics 111:448, 2003. Pediatrics 112:495, 2003. Pediatr Infect Dis J 29:483, 2010) Even for infants 3-6 months old, when suspicion for vaccine adverse effects should be especially high, KD incidence as reported to VAERS was 0.11 while published background rates were 23.1 (2000) and 24.6 (2006); fewer than 1 in 200 KD cases were reported to VAERS. It is bewildering, therefore, to learn that FDA and CDC officials used VAERS data to dismiss a placebo-controlled trial that found a 5-fold KD risk associated with RotaTeq–RR=4.9; 95% CI 0.6, 239. (Pediatr Infect Dis J 28:943, 2009. 6/15/07.) If confirmed by a larger trial, the KD risk associated with RotaTeq would translate to an extra 4000 U.S. cases annually in young children.” So there could be misrepresentations with the calculation of vaccine adverse events.

But for an interesting experiment, let’s say that in some cases physicians encounter a vaccine adverse event and mistake it for some other similar condition. So let’s estimate that 1% of incidents of the following conditions are actually vaccine reactions. Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (not caused by accidental suffocation or strangulation in the bed area= 2,625 total, 1%=26). Autism spectrum disorder. (Finding an actual number of diagnoses per year- not a prevalence or percentage- is extremely difficult, so I’m left to my own devices. So we’ll take 73.6 million children ages 0-17 in 2015. Since autism case prevalence is computed based on 3-17 year olds, we’ll take half of the number of children ages 0-5 which is 23.7 million– 23.7 million/2= 11,850,000, so we’ll estimate that the number of children in the United States ages 3-17 is 73,600,000-11,850,000= 61,750,000. Autism prevalence for children ages 3-17 is placed at 2.24%, so 2.24% of 61,750,000 is 1,389,375. 1% of 1,389,375 is 13,893.75, we’ll round up to 13,894.) Multiple sclerosis (an estimated 10,000 new cases diagnosed every year in the US, 1% of 10,000 is 100) and Shaken Baby Syndrome (according to the New York State Department of Health is 1,000-3,000, so we’ll estimate 1,500 and 1% of that is 15- which may be extremely generous considering that SBS is a highly suspect diagnosis that may be attributed to vaccine adverse events very frequently.) So 26+13,894+100+15= 14,035. In 1980, the OTA placed their estimate of disabling vaccine reactions at 100-250 a year, but based on estimates such as mine above it could actually be much higher.

But for a moment let’s take all that off the table and say that the OTA’s estimate in their memorandum is completely accurate. We know that vaccines frequently have a very high failure rate and that herd immunity is more wishful thinking than actual fact. So parents have to decide whether they feel like it is worth the possibility of their child suffering a disabling condition to receive a medical procedure that can’t actually provide high level of protection for themselves or others.

What Does It Mean When A Disease Is Declared Eliminated/Eradicated?

“This announcement might be premature in view of the unreliability of statistics in underdeveloped countries.”Noted medical historian Erwin H. Ackerknecht on the announcement of the eradication of smallpox (See page 507 of cited document.)

We’ve heard the claim before: “Vaccines have eradicated smallpox from the whole world and diseases like polio and measles from many developed nations.” But do you know what eradication or elimination of a disease really entails?

Most people think that when a disease is declared eliminated or eradicated that the virus or bacteria has become extinct in that area or the entire world- like the dodo bird or quagga. What it usually means is simply that the disease has been declared eradicated or eliminated. Allow me to explain in further detail…

The concept of disease elimination is rooted in the theory of community (herd) immunity- that a disease won’t be able to take hold in a population with high immunity- especially highly vaccinated populations. This sounds like a great idea “on paper”, but real world applications pose numerous problems. Efficacy is often far less than health organizations would like to admit. I’ve listed these well-documented cases from medical and scientific literature before, so if you would like to see them, read this post here for a good collection of cases of vaccine failure. Generally, the assumption that is made with elimination of a disease is that almost all individuals who have received the vaccine are immune to the disease and that immunity will last for very long periods of time. However, the reality of vaccine efficacy is much different.

A great example is the flu vaccine. The CDC has released a statement saying that the 2014 flu vaccine was only about 14% effective. They say it is usually more like 50-60% effective. Since herd immunity generally requires anywhere from 75-95% of a population to be immune, there is simply no way herd immunity could ever be achieved through the current influenza vaccination. Even if 100% of  eligible population were to be vaccinated, the maximum immunity would only be about 60%.

Yet another example is pertussis. A survey of nine counties in California showed that between 44 and 83 percent of individuals with pertussis had been immunized. Again, at those rates of failure even a fully vaccinated population will not result in herd immunity- especially when the threshold for community immunity for pertussis has been set at 92-95%.

And yet another example lies in measles. The Huffington Post reported on this here. Renowned vaccinologist Dr. Gregory Poland states that the MMR shot is not effective at preventing measles. He says that it is both far less effective than anticipated and that immunity from it quickly wanes. Despite all this, he also condemns in no uncertain terms those who refuse vaccination. (So you’ve told me that your solution doesn’t work, but I must still get it or I will be hurting others by not getting the ineffective solution? And yet I am dismissed as the emotional, unscientific one?) In a situation where immunity is conferred but quickly wanes, even if you had that “community-immunity-dream-come-true” where 100% of the eligible population has been vaccinated, because immunity is very brief, widespread immunity will be achieved only for short periods of time if at all.

(Penn and Teller, would you care to do a video where you explain how the above examples factor into community immunity?)

Moving on to the next issue with elimination and eradication, let’s talk about vaccines spreading disease. Yes, I can see the eye rolls now. Most dismiss this as fear mongering from people who where foil hats on their heads to prevent the government or the Illuminati or aliens from reading their minds. However, it is actually medically documented and is one of the prime reasons that we no longer vaccinate for smallpox. Page 501 of an article in the 1983 Microbiolocial Review details several cases of individuals who were vaccinated for smallpox after the disease was declared eradicated and subsequently became reservoirs for the vaccinia virus and passed it to others. Many of these cases came from military personnel who were vaccinated for smallpox and then passed the virus to other military personnel or family members such as children who then passed it to others.

And herein lies yet another problem with campaigns for eradication of a disease. The chances of any one person becoming a reservoir for pathogen is probably relatively small. But when you start having mass vaccination campaigns where many vaccines are being administered, the chances increase that someone is going to become a reservoir and start passing the disease. If there is a relatively high failure rate of the vaccine, the potential exists for several individuals to become infected even in a highly vaccinated population. This probably explains why during the smallpox eradication campaign areas that had very high levels of vaccination were still seeing cases of smallpox. (See page 491.)

But even with all these problems with eradication, smallpox was still declared eradicated. How did they do it? Well let’s take a look at the criteria for declaring smallpox eradicated. Going back to the 1983 Microbiological Review, the criteria for declaring eradication of smallpox required that no cases of smallpox had been reported within the last two years and that the country’s epidemiological surveillance system be evaluated and declared adequate by the World Health Organization (pg. 498).

Now surveillance and reporting bring up a number of interesting problems. The United States has a great surveillance system for diseases and yet not every disease is reported. (I never let the authorities know when my kids had chickenpox. There’s absolutely no incentive for me to do so since I would be met with persecution.) I know of other people who have “flown under the wire” with pertussis, chickenpox, the flu and even measles.

We have also seen that even in countries whose reporting and surveillance systems are adequate that breakdowns- or abuses can occur. Initially, rewards were offered for reporting cases of smallpox, but there came a point when a country’s health authorities didn’t want to report smallpox cases because it would interfere with gaining eradication status. Health officials in Somalia suppressed information about smallpox cases in the final months of that eradication campaign, not wanting their country to bear the stigma of being the last to harbor the virus. In a more recent occurrence, China kept information about its SARS outbreak secret.

The other problem with surveillance is that especially in vaccinated populations, diseases can frequently be asymptomatic. Modified measles is a medically documented phenomenon in which individuals who have been vaccinated for measles still contract the virus but because of the vaccine don’t display the typical the symptoms of the disease. The characteristic spots associated with measles are very frequently absent in modified measles. Most doctors aren’t very familiar with this so they won’t consider it a possibility in vaccinated individuals or test for it. A similar phenomenon called atypical measles was noted when the killed strain measles vaccine was in use. Pertussis is notorious for this. It is a medically documented fact that individuals who have been vaccinated for pertussis and contract the disease often don’t display any symptoms.

Furthermore, declaring measles eliminated is in many ways like a “self-graded” test. The WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific (WPRO) has a set of criteria for the definition of elimination of  measles. However, their definitions have changed over the years. Originally the definition for measles elimination required zero incidence of infection within a defined geographic area. Now, measles elimination is defined as “the absence of endemic measles transmission and the lack of sustained transmission following an importation of measles virus in a large and well populated geographical area.”

Now here is where things get interesting. A report from the World Health Organization on the elimination of measles in Australia states: “Australia, like many other countries that have declared elimination, would have difficulty meeting the WPRO elimination criteria based on currently available reporting of the investigation of presumptive measles cases (Table 2, available at: http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/87/1/07-046375/en/index.html). However we believe multiple lines of evidence conclusively demonstrate the elimination of endemic measles transmission from Australia since 2005 at the latest.” OK, so Australia and most other countries that have declared measles eliminated haven’t actually met the WPRO’s definition of elimination, but these countries feel they have done a good job, so they can declare measles eliminated? This is the scientific basis for the elimination of measles? In fact, there is a nice little chart on the WHO’s site showing all the ways that countries that have declared elimination of measles have met and not met the WPRO’s definition for measles elimination. If you take a look at this chart, it shows that Australia has neither a low incidence of measles nor a high quality surveillance system, however, they can still declare measles eliminated within their borders.

And on top of all this are disease associated side effects with vaccination. Provocative polio is a well-documented example of this. In 1998, Drs. Matthias Gromeier and  Eckard Wimmer found that injury to tissue to during certain types of injections allowed the polio virus easy access to nerve channels, thereby increasing the likelihood of paralysis. The more recent HV Wyatt study from 2003 found that three-quarters of children with paralytic polio receive injections just before the onset of paralysis. Then there is Vaccine Acquired Paralytic Polio. According to the CDC, between 1980 and 1999 162 cases of paralytic polio were confirmed in the United States,  154 of which were VAPP.

The other major assumption with the WHO’s eradication criteria is that if no new cases are reported after two years that the disease must be gone. A similar assumption has been made with polio eradication, and yet has proved faulty.  For example, in 2004 a case of wild type 3 poliovirus in Sudan was discovered when the last case in Sudan was detected in 1999. The criterion for certification of eradication is the failure to discover wild poliovirus for at least three years in countries with certification-quality surveillance- very similar to that of smallpox eradication. Genetic sequencing of the wild virus found in 2004 showed that it may have been circulating undetected in Sudan for more than three years—a time when surveillance in Sudan was thought to be satisfactory. Barrett points out that while surveillance probably was satisfactory at the national level, it must also be of an acceptable standard within every local district. As Sudan has been a high conflict zone, it is very possible that local surveillance may not have been adequate.

And to be realistic, during the smallpox eradication effort there were a number of countries embroiled in conflicts, such as the Vietnam War, the Cambodian civi war and subsequent “Killing Fields”, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Even the practice of apartheid in South Africa, for example, could have led to inequalities in surveillance and reporting. Not to mention the number of localized areas that were poverty stricken or remote that could lead to inadequate surveillance and reporting on a local or regional level.

Furthermore, another big weakness with the system is that once eradication status was granted to a country, surveillance for smallpox was not quite as careful. In fact, in 1987 it was recommended that smallpox be removed from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. However, surveillance began again after the September 11 attacks in 2001 because of the possibility of a bioterrorism attacks.

When assessed from a realistic perspective, the WHO’s criteria for eradication is based on the assumption that all components of a country’s reporting and surveillance for diseases are working perfectly- not well or adequately- but perfectly. That’s a pretty big assumption. (It brings to mind something I heard in a podcast interview with General Stanley McChrystal where Gen. McChrystal talked about the importance of a “red team” to do an outside assessment of a plan. He said that something can sound like the most brilliant plan when it’s your own head, but when you get other people to look at it, they can bring out the weak points and pretty soon you see that you aren’t dealing with a strategy, but rather a set of miracles based on everything working perfectly.)

But even with all of these very significant challenges in disease eradication/elimination, let’s for the moment assume that a disease in particular can or has been eliminated. When we talk about eliminating/eradicating a disease, it is because we believe it has very detrimental effects and that if eliminated/eradicated, that people will no longer suffer those effects. But are we really free from the detrimental effects of a disease just because it has been declared eliminated or eradicated? Let’s take a look at the data…

Smallpox: We’ve already established that cases of smallpox have been documented to spread from vaccinated individuals. However, even if smallpox is no longer a threat to humans, there are a number of other animal pox viruses that can cause similar symptoms and even death. Monkeypox is one of the more well studied examples of this as detailed in pages 503-506 of the Microbiological Review. However, there are a variety of other possible pox viruses that could take hold in humans including cowpox, camel pox, tanapox, rat pox, gerbil pox and raccoon pox.

Polio: Because of polio, no one has to worry about their child coming home sick and being paralyzed, right? Wrong. One interesting newspaper article from India asserts that while polio has been eliminated in India, Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) is on the rise.  According to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, AFP encompasses all cases of poliomyelitis. And guess what? AFP can get you here in the United States too. Several cases of paralysis from non-polio enteroviruses have been reported in the United States.

Measles: Sure, it is possible to get encephalitis from measles. But guess what else can cause encephalitis? According to the Mayo Clinic, encephalitis can occur as a result of vaccination with a live virus vaccine– like MMR.

I think at this point we should be asking ourselves if it is really realistic or prudent to eliminate a disease causing pathogen. We talk a lot about the importance of the ecosystem and that if a species like a plant or insect goes extinct, it could upset the entire ecological balance of an area. Yet, our scientists feel that these laws do not apply to bacteria and viruses. Instead of trying to eliminate viruses and bacteria, perhaps it would be more practical and lifesaving to focus on efforts to help people avoid them through clean water and fight them off through better nutrition and healthcare.

Where Did Polio Go? Here is Dr. Suzanne Humphries And A Mountain of Data To Tell You…

I’ve been writing this blog for a little over a year now and every time I think I’ve heard it all, I find something else that tops the craziness of vaccine culture and mythology. Here is nephrologist Dr. Suzanne Humphries, MD talking about the “end of polio”.

Before you say that polio is gone, it’s incontrovertible and where are the iron lungs, remember that the campaign to eradicate polio through vaccination faces a number of hurdles- like failure of the vaccine to induce immunity, transmission of the poliovirus through live OPV, and the fact that people with immunodeficiency disorders can excrete live poliovirus from the OPV for years.

I can not recommend this video enough. It’s an hour, but it will be an hour of your life very well spent in becoming more educated about the real challenges of polio vaccination and public health.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Twch-T-n8Ns

Why Yes, Ms. Bell, Facts Are My Friends. But Are They Yours?

Special note: This post is a response to actress Kristen Bell’s piece “Facts Are Friends” which was published in the Huffington Post. If you’d like to see what she wrote, you can click on the link in the text “Dear Ms. Bell”.

Dear Ms. Bell,

I do believe that you and I can agree that facts are our friends. You have absolutely every right to make decisions about what you feel is best for your children and I will fight for your choice. However, as a celebrity, you have the responsibility to make sure that your stance is fully informed when you encourage others to align themselves with your views.

And as a non-vaccinating mother, I feel compelled to share my information just as you felt compelled to share yours. So, I don’t think there should be a problem with me responding to your arguments with factual, grounded information from other vetted sources. After all, it’s due to crazy know-it-alls like me that you can have a birth with a doctor who has washed his/her hands, treat mental illness without injurious brain surgery and not expose your unborn child to harmful levels of x-ray radiation. So fasten your seatbelt, celebrities and anyone else reading this, we are going for a bumpy ride…

Vaccines train the immune system: Ms. Bell, you repeat the argument that vaccines train the immune system to fend off infections when exposure does happen. There is ample evidence of the opposite in documented, reputable medical journals. Here are several examples:

  •  A 2011 outbreak of measles in New York was traced to a woman who was fully vaccinated. This is probably not isolated since other studies have found fully vaccinated individuals still get measles, and the spread of disease amongst vaccinated individuals remains a blind spot for the medical and public health professions, as the study notes.
  • The International Journal of Epidemiology records a case of measles vaccine failure in Hungary, where the majority of measles cases struck those who had been vaccinated.
  • A case study from India documents a measles outbreak in a slum. Almost one-third of the children who contracted measles were vaccinated for the disease.
  • If you or your child have been vaccinated for measles, you could still have the disease and you or doctor may not even know it. Modified measles is a documented phenomenon in which individuals who have been vaccinated for measles still contract the virus but because of the vaccine don’t display the typical the symptoms of the disease. The characteristic spots associated with measles are very frequently absent in modified measles. Most doctors aren’t very familiar with this so they won’t consider it a possibility in vaccinated individuals or test for it. A similar phenomenon called atypical measles was noted when the killed strain measles vaccine was in use.

Pertussis

Polio

Smallpox

FAQ’s from the CDC about vaccine safety say that adjuvants are put in vaccines “to enhance the immune response of vaccinated individuals”. However, if you dig around in immunology literature, you’ll find a few more interesting details about adjuvants.

Let’s start with immunologist Charles Janeway. Janeway did a significant amount of research into what he called “the immunologist’s dirty little secret”– that the presence of foreign antigens alone are often not enough to elicit a response from the immune system. In fact, it has been well known amongst immunologists for a long time that the presence of bacteria and viruses is often not enough to induce a response from the immune system. This is why scientists routinely add substances like mineral oil, bovine serum albumin and mineral salts like aluminum hydroxide to their experiments to get a reaction from the immune system.

So while we’ve been told that vaccines work by imitating an infection which then leaves the body with T- and B-lymphoctes which tell it how to fight the infection in the future, it’s not the bacteria or viruses that are causing the immune reaction, it’s the adjuvants.

Chemicals and Preservatives in Vaccines

As you point out, Ms. Bell, there are chemicals in vaccines. You cite articles that say that the amounts in vaccines are only tiny amounts of these chemicals and the body can easily eliminate them. I read the article on formaldehyde which stated that babies’ bodies naturally produce this and the amount in a vaccine is far less than what is in a baby’s body already.

First of all, Ms. Bell, could you tell us exactly how much formaldehyde is in a vaccine and how much is in a baby’s body? Because the article you cited here doesn’t actually give a quantity, but rather dances around the issue by saying that the upper limit of formaldehyde in a vaccine is 50-70 times greater than the naturally occurring formaldehyde in a baby’s body. Why not just tell us exactly how much formaldehyde is actually in a vaccine?

These are actually very important questions. Do particular vaccines have a higher concentration of formaldehyde? Do some people’s bodies not eliminate formaldehyde as readily as others? Do some baby’s bodies have higher levels of formaldehyde already from environmental factors? What are the effects on those children? These are all questions that haven’t really been explored. We are simply to get shots and not ask questions. (Thimerosal has been removed from a  number of vaccines, so we will take that issue off the table for the purposes of this discussion.)

Of course the assertion is that the body will simply eliminate any formaldehyde from a vaccine. However, most information about formaldehyde does not address elimination when it has been injected into the bloodstream. Take these sites for example (from the CDC and American Cancer Society) which describe elimination when the formaldehyde has been inhaled, ingested or there is dermal contact, but do not mention formaldehyde which enters the bloodstream through subcutaneous injection. In fact, there is very little information about the effect of injected formaldehyde available.

Though you believe the chemicals in vaccines to be more or less harmless, you may be interested to know that there is a growing number of cancer diagnoses and deaths amongst American children. Cancer will affect approximately 10,000 American children under the age of 15 this year. It will kill approximately 1,350 children under the age of 15 this year. Rates of this disease in children have been on the rise in the past few decade, though the death rate (after five years) is down from 2,500 in 1998According to the CDC, cancer is the second leading cause of death in children ages 5-14 after accidents and unintentional injuries.

Leukemia (cancer that starts in blood forming tissue such as bone marrow and spreads through the blood stream), brain and central nervous system tumors, lymphoma (cancer of the immune system), rhabdomyosarcoma (cancer of the soft tissue in the muscle), neuroblastoma (cancer in the nerve cells, which mostly affects infants and children), Wilms tumor (cancer that starts with malignant tumors in the kidneys and then spreads to the lungs, liver or lymph nodes and usually affects children under 5 years old), bone cancer and gonadal and germ cell cancers are the most common types of cancer seen in children ages 0-19. Leukemia accounts for 30% of all childhood cancer.

Before the MMR vaccine, the CDC says that 500 individuals died every year from measles complications. I’m sure when your children had their MMR shots you were grateful that they wouldn’t be afflicted with measles encephalitis. But did you stop to think that your children are more likely to die of cancer before their fifteenth birthday than a person of any age from measles before the measles vaccine?

What could be causing these cancers? While we don’t have any definitive answers at the moment, consider the following facts about the chemicals in vaccines and the most common cancers seen in children:

So it may be wise to ask yourself if you think that we can really inject our children and ourselves with animal viruses and carcinogens and expect only good health to result. And while the above information is not definitive, I believe it bears investigating, especially with the rising rates of cancer amongst American children. Ms. Bell, I’m sure you are aware of the devastating effects of cancer on a child’s body. Don’t you think that it’s worth it to investigate the possibility of a link between childhood cancer and childhood vaccines to save children’s lives, even if it means discarding a cherished medical procedure?

Adjuvants are the other chemicals frequently found in vaccines. They are responsible for many of the reactions to vaccines. Table 5 from Edelman’s section on adjuvants in Vaccine Adjuvants: Preparation Methods and Research Protocols details the “Real and Theoretical Risks of Vaccine Adjuvants” which include:

  • Local or acute chronic inflammation with formation of painful abcesses, persistent nodules or draining lymphadenopathy (enlargement of the lymph nodes typically associated with cancer or infection).
  • Flu-like illness with fever
  • Anaphylaxis (a whole body allergic reaction)
  • Chemical toxicity to tissues or organs
  • autoimmune arthritis, amyloidosis, (a condition in which abnormal protein buildup is deposited in an organ of the body) anterior uveitis (inflammation of the eye which can ultimately cause blindness).
  • Cross reactions with human tissue antigens causing glomurelonephritis (inflammation of the filters in the kidneys) or meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the brian and meninges that can result in speech and motor impairment, epilepsy and intellectual deficits; ironically, vaccination is often recommended as a way to prevent encephalitis and meningoencephalitis.)
  • Immune suppression (Aren’t vaccines supposed to enhance, the immune system, not compromise it? If they’re suppressing the immune system, then what’s the point?)
  • Carcinogenesis (See my post on cancer and vaccines.)
  • Teratogenesis (causes birth defects) or abortogenesis (causes abortion or miscarriage- like several pregnant women have reported with the flu shot…)
  • Spread of a live vectored vaccine to the environment (sounds a lot like shedding!)

Edelman doesn’t care to explicitly state which of these risks are “real” and which are “theoretical”.

Vaccine Safety and Testing

Yes, indeed, some vaccines do take several years to develop and license. Others don’t. Whenever a “pandemic” strikes, we are told that we must rush out and get the latest life-saving vaccine. H1N1 is a prime example of this. In 2009, several new H1N1 vaccines were quickly approved because of the declared necessity of protecting the public from a flu pandemic. Though neither you nor I were alive to witness it, you would also do well to read what happened when H1N1 panic gripped the country and a “lifesaving” vaccine was rushed out in the name of public health in 1976. This vaccine actually killed more people through Guillain-Barre Syndrome than the actual H1N1 virus did.  Refer back to my above citation of the Cutter Incident where children were killed by Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine.

In fact, uncomfortable information from a recent lawsuit has come forward from CDC officials and former Merck scientists about fraudulent claims on Merck’s part about its MMR vaccine’s effectiveness. The whistleblowers’ court documents state that Merck did not fully test the vaccine and falsified the results it did have. (This article comes from the Huffington Post, where you were published. There should be no problem with the Huffington Post as a source.) You may also be interested in knowing that in 1991 Maurice Hilleman expressed concern to his associates at Merck about mercury levels in the MMR vaccine. So while you have complete confidence in the government and vaccine manufacturers, the people who have been involved with the creation and approval vaccines don’t necessarily share your feelings.

Herd Immunity

I can’t say that I have read any comics about herd immunity, however I still consider myself very well-informed on the subject from reading a number of articles from the CDC as well as several epidemiology and immunology journals. Please refer to the above examples of vaccine failure and kindly tell me where herd immunity was for all the people in California who were vaccinated for pertussis and still tested positive for it. How about the people of Africa who received vaccines through Bill Gates’ foundation and still became sick with polio? Where was herd immunity for the baby in Israel who was surrounded by fully vaccinated children and caregivers who were found to be carrying pertussis and passed it on? Can you tell me where herd immunity was when entire cities had received the smallpox vaccine in India and still suffered outbreaks of the disease during the WHO’s eradication efforts? Where was herd immunity during the measles outbreak in the Indian slum when one-third of the children who contracted the disease were vaccinated?

While doctors and public health officials love to talk about herd immunity and parents love to believe in it, well-documented occurrences of vaccine failure show that vaccinating people is neither enough to protect the vaccinated individuals nor to stop the spread of diseases.

Another interesting tidbit of information: the rate of immunization of infants is arbitrary in relation to life expectancy rankings. Monaco ranks 1st for life expectancy (out of 223 nations) and has reported a 99% measles immunization rate of infants ages 12-23 months in 2012, but so did Albania, which ranks 60th for life expectancy and Brunei which ranks 74th,  and Turkmenistan at 155. Rwanda reports a 97% rate of infant vaccination and is 197th in the world for life expectancy. Austria reports that only 76% of its babies are vaccinated for measles and it is ranked 32nd in the world for life expectancy, while Benin has a 72% infant measles vaccination rate and ranks 191st for life expectancy. By the way, United States reported an infant vaccination of 92% for measles in 2012- the same as Switzerland.

Financial Considerations of Vaccination

I believe you are correct that most doctors are probably not getting much financial incentive for pushing vaccines. It is my belief that most doctors are simply doing what they were told in medical school is crucial to the health of the public at large. They fervently believe (as you do) that everyone should be vaccinated. The article from The Atlantic you cited does indeed state that vaccines are about 2-3% of the trillion dollar global market for pharmaceuticals. However, it also says that vaccines are a new and rapidly growing profit center so there is definite financial incentive to keep developing more of them and to get more people to take them. (The article is titled “Vaccines Are Profitable. So What?”)

Consider that vaccines are said to be crucial to the health of every adult, child and animal on the planet and that every single person in the world needs several over their life. And the list of what we all “need” for vaccinations is growing all the time. You point out that pharmaceutical companies make money when people stay sick, but you claim that vaccines keep people healthy. So if I am understanding you right, your argument is that manufacturing vaccines is not really in pharmaceutical companies’ financial interest. This would essentially mean that these companies are making vaccines out of the goodness of their hearts and operating more like charities.

But these companies are making a profit from vaccines. Again, the article you cited states this and in fact further acknowledges that vaccine manufacturers are very secretive about just how much money they are making from vaccines. I’m all for people making profit within legal boundaries, even if I don’t agree that a product or service is safe or helpful. And if a pharmaceutical company is going to make vaccines, they have to make a profit off of them or they won’t be able to sustain production. Profitability isn’t the problem.

The problem is when people make their decisions about vaccination based on an emotional attachment to vaccines and overlook the fact that vaccine manufacturers are businesses and want you to partake of their product because they have a monetary incentive. While you may feel that vaccines are lifesaving and necessary, the fact remains that vaccine manufacturers are not non-profits or charities. They are businesses and isn’t in their best interest to give you information that will deter you from using their products. So all of the information you get from them is designed to either get you use them or alleviate any legal repercussions for the vaccine manufacturers if something goes wrong. Vaccine manufacturers have to think about their bottom line.

Also, you should be aware that the US government has chipped in to help keep vaccine manufacturers afloat financially by footing the bill for injuries and deaths that result from vaccinations. The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was instituted in 1988 to deal with lawsuits filed by people who have suffered or had a family member suffer a serious vaccine injury. When a lawsuit is filed and the vaccine is found in a court of law to be responsible for the death or injury, the government pays out the award so the vaccine manufacturer doesn’t have to. Since 1988, the US government has paid out over $3 billion in awards to claimants.  Take note that that number is coming from the Department of Health and Human Services, not some “out there” website with conspiracy theories. That’s a pretty sizable chunk of change. But consider that these are only the cases of reactions where someone had the resources to file a lawsuit. By no means do they represent the actual number of people who suffer serious reactions.

In fact, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program page states: “On October 1, 1988, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-660) created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). The VICP was established to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines, stabilize vaccine costs, and establish and maintain an accessible and efficient forum for individuals found to be injured by certain vaccines.”  In other words, if vaccine manufacturers could be sued like other companies when their products cause injury or death, the costs would be so high to them that it would become cost prohibitive for them to manufacture vaccines. I’m sure you’re saying, “Yes, but that’s a good thing! It’s good that we can maintain a large supply of relatively inexpensive vaccines!” But just think about what you’re saying for a moment. We’re talking about a product that is acknowledged to be so dangerous that unless manufacturers are relieved of financial responsibility, the lawsuits would put them out of business. Does that sound safe and altruistic to you, Ms. Bell?

Vaccine Clustering and Safety

The links you shared for “overwhelming research shows” have very little in the way of citations. They are FAQ and “information for parents” pages from organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control that simply assert that giving young babies several vaccines at once is safe. Another link you have included is an FAQ page from the World Health Organization that again asserts that current methods for vaccination are safe without providing much evidence. I find it rather ironic that the FAQ from the AAP you shared states that babies immune systems are “ready and waiting to keep them healthy” by fighting off germs and toxins. If this is the case then why do babies need a slew of vaccines to train their immune systems?

You do cite one article from Time magazine which discusses a study on MMR and autism. As I have written before, autism and MMR are extremely convenient for vaccine proponents. There is an assumption amongst many that the primary reason people choose not vaccinate is because of MMR and autism. This is not true. There are a number of other issues surrounding vaccination that have prompted parents not to vaccinate, so hammering away the MMR-autism issue will not assuage concerns over vaccine failure or other vaccine reactions. (For a more comprehensive discussion of this issue, please see my post on measles and Andrew Wakefield here.)

Concerns about  multiple doses of vaccines administered simultaneously are usually based on the idea that the problem is in the dosage rather than the vaccines themselves. This is a rather comforting idea and is how many parents try to bridge the gap between what they have been told about vaccines (that they make people healthier) and what they see (many vaccinated people are frequently sick). The problem with arguments on clustering from both sides- that it is a serious risk and that it isn’t- is that they ignore the fact that even one vaccine can cause long-term damage or death. Here are a few taken from medical and epidemiology literature:

Measles

Polio

H1N1

  • Though the CDC has since downplayed the connection between the H1N1 vaccine and Guillain-Barre syndrome, by early 1977, agency insiders had already concluded that the occurrence GBS was greater among those who had received the flu vaccine than among those who had not. By the time of Carter’s inauguration, 1,100 cases of GBS had been reported, half of whom had received the swine flu shot. Among those 1,100 cases of GBS, fifty-eight had resulted in death. Researchers concluded that the instance of  Guillain-Barre Syndrome was ten times greater for the those who had received the swine flu shot, than for those who had not. (Garret 181). 4,181 cases were filed seeking payment for damages caused by the 1976 flu vaccine. The cases made their way through the legal system for a decade and a half, but by 1993, the United States government had paid out over $93 million dollars to swine flu claimants. (Garret 182)

And for good measure, here’s a little info about anthrax…

The anthrax vaccine developed in the last part of the twentieth century has been implicated in Gulf War Syndrome and opponents (including other scientists) have cited a lack of research and proof of efficacy. In fact, research from members of the armed forces shows that adverse reaction rates for the anthrax vaccine are as high as 85%, not the 30% the manufacturer claimed and that women have higher rates of adverse reactions than men.

The United States has one of the most aggressive vaccine schedules of any nation. You can take a look at vaccine schedules from other countries like Japan, Iceland, Singapore, Great Britain and even our neighbor to the north Canada and see that they don’t give as many vaccines as we do. And guess what? Children are still very healthy in these nations. In fact, they are all healthier countries than the US.

It’s very curious the way Americans treat their vaccine schedule. Most Americans are vocal proponents about the safety and effectiveness of our vaccine schedule (and birthing practices, medical care, etc.) Yet, the United States spends more on healthcare than any other nation in the world and has the lowest quality of life of any developed nation in the world. Clearly our healthcare isn’t working. Everything (including our vaccine schedule) should be questioned and picked apart, not defended at all costs.

Side Effects

You cite a website from the UK which states that the most serious side effect from vaccination in anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). This is, in fact, untrue. Vaccines are known to cause autoimmune encephalitis, a disease which can quickly cause disability or death. The Merck Manual Home Edition states that autoimmune encephalitis can be caused when “A virus or vaccine triggers a reaction that makes the immune system attack brain tissue (an autoimmune reaction).”  (I consider the Merck Manual to be a reliable source of information, do you?) If you would like a second opinion, the Mayo Clinic’s website states: “Secondary encephalitis often occurs two to three weeks after the initial infection. Rarely, secondary encephalitis occurs as a complication of a live virus vaccination.”

From the Mayo Clinic’s website, take note that symptoms of encephalitis include the following:

In mild cases:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Aches in muscles or joints
  • Fatigue or weakness

In more severe cases:

  • Confusion, agitation or hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Loss of sensation or paralysis in certain areas of the face or body
  • Muscle weakness
  • Double vision
  • Perception of foul smells, such as burned meat or rotten eggs
  • Problems with speech or hearing
  • Loss of consciousness

In babies:

  • Bulging in the soft spots (fontanels) of the skull in infants
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Body stiffness
  • Inconsolable crying
  • Poor feeding or not waking for a feeding
  • Irritability

Oh, how interesting. The mild reaction symptoms you described as being normal and good are the same as the symptoms of encephalitis. You know what else is interesting? The so-called “Period of Purple Crying” which is said to be a completely normal phase wherein 2 and 4 month old babies scream uncontrollably for hours also bears a resemblance to encephalitis and coincidentally occurs around the ages when babies receive several doses of vaccines.

What are the effects of encephalitis? Well, according to the Mayo Clinic, most people who develop encephalitis will recover within a couple of weeks. In fact, they seem to just have a flu. On the other hand, encephalitis can cause much more severe complications that can even be permanent:

  • Persistent fatigue
  • Weakness or lack of muscle coordination
  • Personality changes
  • Memory problems
  • Paralysis
  • Hearing or vision defects
  • Speech impairments

And of course, death is another risk if encephalitis is severe and not treated quickly enough.

Encephalitis is most likely a vastly underreported side effect of vaccination, especially because most parents and doctors are not aware of the risks or educated about the symptoms and complications. So while your children may develop a mild case of encephalitis after vaccination and be OK afterwards… they could also develop longer term cognitive or physical problems. How comfortable are you playing roulette with your childrens’ health?

 

Vaccine Pioneers

And last of all, you conclude by talking about the  courageous and forward thinking pioneers of vaccination who have done more to contribute to modern health than anything except ready access to clean water. I’m afraid I’m going to have to burst your bubble on that one too.

Louis Pasteur was adamant that his laboratory notebooks- which document what he was actually doing in the lab rather than what he represented to the public- should never be released to any outsiders. And this was the case until the 1970’s when his heirs released them to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. The release of Pasteur’s notebooks turned up a number of damning details about one of Western history’s most revered scientists. Turns out Pasteur deliberately misrepresented much of his research to the public and even stole from competitors. His anthrax and rabies vaccines were among his fraudulent scientific forays.

I’ve already mentioned the Cutter Incident in relation to Jonas Salk, but Dr. Salk participated in other less than humanitarian endeavors. In 1942, he and his associates were involved with experimentation with a flu vaccine and used mental patients as their unwitting test subjects. The research was heralded as being promising, despite the fact that the patients were neither able to give consent to the procedure nor were able to describe their symptoms because they didn’t understand what was being done to them.

Even the beloved Edward Jenner poses some thorny bioethical issues. What we herald as one of the greatest leaps forward in medical science- Jenner’s first success with smallpox vaccination- was no different than the methods used by Nazi doctors as the experimented with their vaccines on victims in concentration camps. Jenner injected a boy with his vaccine and then deliberately exposed him to the disease, which could have made him sick or potentially killed him. In America, we have turned a blind eye to ethics behind vaccination and focus desperately on how we think we need them. Jenner also used his own son for vaccination experimentation and repeatedly inoculated him and then exposed him to smallpox- even when the boy became sick. In the years after his father’s experiments on him, Edward Jenner Jr. became chronically ill and exhibited signs of intellectual impairment.

Ms. Bell, I don’t know you personally, but you strike me as a good-hearted person. I don’t think you’re advocacy for vaccination has any sort of ulterior motive. No one can doubt your sincerity. As you say, you would stand on a corner with a cardboard sign to tell people about what you see as the importance of vaccination. But let’s be honest, you don’t have to. You are a celebrity and you are telling people what they want to hear. You will have no end of outlets for your thoughts. I think you are aware of that and that is precisely why you are so vocal about an issue that you believe to be crucial to not only your family’s health, but the world at large. The problem is that the solution you are advocating is ineffective at preventing and controlling diseases and is known to cause brain damage and death in some cases.

So Ms. Bell are facts really your friends? The above information is all well-documented from reputable sources. But will you choose uncomfortable truths or comfortable falsehoods? Is your stance based on public health or public opinion?

 

 

Slaughtering the Sacred Cow Part Two: Smallpox Eradication

The eradication of smallpox has been heralded as one of the greatest scientific achievements in history. However, it is possible that the story we have been presented is not entirely accurate.

The eradication of smallpox seems to be based on how many people received the smallpox vaccine, and this of course, is based on the assumption that the smallpox vaccine is extremely effective. However, there are a number of problems with this idea, the first being that the smallpox vaccine has had a troubled history plagued by failures. (No pun intended…)

There were high hopes for smallpox vaccination and variolation and these led to mandatory vaccination laws in England in 1853. In fact, compulsory vaccination with penalties for not vaccinating was not able to stop another outbreak from occurring in 1877 and another 1881. (I find it ironic that this webpage condemns objectors to vaccination while acknowledging that outbreaks continued to despite smallpox vaccination laws and affirmations from the government and health board that vaccination was effective. They offer up comments of objectors stating that they were concerned about their children’s lives and health and the infringement of their liberties as some sort of proof that opposition to vaccination is dangerous. All it proves is that these people were concerned about their freedom and their children’s health. But I digress…)

Even in the 20th century, problems with smallpox persisted despite high rates of immunization for the eradication program instituted by the World Health Organization. A quote from a scholarly paper on the history of smallpox reads: “The concept of mass immunization, originally proposed to include 80% of the population in each country to achieve herd immunity proved ineffective as herd immunity did not cease and smallpox persisted in such immunized or ostensibly over-immunized populations.” (pg.491 of document.)  So while smallpox vaccination rates were high, the disease continued to persist. This does not constitute eradication.

Can a disease be eradicated? I think it worth questioning since despite all the money and pharmaceutical technology, no other diseases have been eradicated altogether. There are reports that certain diseases have been eradicated in certain areas of the world, but these have problems as well. I think polio is the perfect comparison.

Despite a massive campaign to eradicate polio, the disease has persisted. Even in countries where it has been declared eradicated, cases of Acute Flaccid Paralysis have remained high. For example, India has been declared polio-free but now has some of the highest rates of Acute Flaccid Paralysis in the world. So even if you get a disease doctors do not classify as polio, you can still suffer the same consequences. In fact, MD’s like Suzanne Humphries who have talked openly about the misconceptions surrounding vaccination point out that polio itself was merely a diagnosis for a number of different conditions that could result in paralysis. So it’s quite possible that instead of being “eradicated”, polio simply got a name change. Doctors can call a disease resulting in paralysis Acute Flaccid Paralysis and continue to laud the eradication of polio, even though the threat of death and paralysis is still there.

And India is hardly alone. Americans have had a brutal wake-up call as paralysis from so-called non-polio enteroviruses has gotten more attention. Isn’t it possible that smallpox could still be going around, but the diagnosis is just different now? We have never seen any other disease be eradicated. We are dealing with an occurrence that has not been replicated.

I think we also need to consider the historical and political context of the “eradication” of smallpox as well. At a time when vaccines seemed to be under great suspicion from lawsuits over Vaccine Acquired Paralytic Polio, deaths from the 1976 flu vaccine, and settlements for deaths from the DTP shot, the World Health Organization announced that vaccines had given mankind its greatest epidemiological achievement: defeat of a disease. In 1979, smallpox was declared eradicated from the planet. The medical and public health communities must have breathed a sigh of relief. The “eradication” of smallpox could not have happened at a more convenient time.

Update: This interview with Dr. Suzanne Humphries MD about vaccines and what really happened to polio and smallpox is excellent if you would like more information. It’s an hour and a half long, but it is well worth listening to.

Update: I have written a post about what disease eradication/elimination actually means and how it is “achieved”. It can be found here.

Slaughtering the Sacred Cow: Getting Real About the Polio Vaccine

There comes a time when we all have to come to terms with a more complex worldview than we were often raised with. We find out that some of the ideas we hold most dear are, in fact, more complicated than we have been led to believe or sometimes blatantly false. The so-called “Boston Massacre” was not actually an unprovoked attack on American colonists, but rather a riot that started from British soldiers attempting to defend themselves against an attack by a crowd of irate Bostonians. Though he was a great leader who helped change America by inspiring peaceful protests for civil rights, the late Martin Luther King Jr. was also very human and FBI wiretaps did confirm that he often struggled with infidelity. Thomas Edison was a brilliant and visionary man whose inventions have made life better for humanity,  but in his zeal to promote his direct current electricity, he not only failed to properly compensate Nicola Tesla for Tesla’s work with Edison, but also conducted public demonstrations where he electrocuted animals (and a criminal) to discredit Tesla’s and Westinghouse’s alternating current electricity. Sometimes, we have to slaughter a sacred cow to see the truth. The polio vaccine is no exception.

The polio vaccine is one of America’s most cherished innovations. It’s pretty much up there with mom, apple pie and the American flag. Jonas Salk is one of the most celebrated figures of the twentieth century. Any attempt to point out any potential weaknesses are typically met with arguments that the polio vaccine has saved countless lives by preventing death and disability. The reality is that most of what you have heard about the polio vaccine is false.

You’ve heard that right after the introduction of polio vaccine, polio rates dropped dramatically and the vaccine was responsible for this decline. What do records from the 1950’s tell us about polio? Page LII of the Vital Statistics of the United States 1955 Volume I notes that: “…deaths from acute poliomyelitis fell below those for any year since 1947. While the drop was coincidental with the introduction of the poliomyelitis vaccine, very little of the decline can be attributed to its decline in 1955. This disease causes deaths among young adults as well as among children and the rates for almost every age group declined in 1955.” This report describes the polio vaccine is being only coincidental to the decline in polio rates.

Two vaccines emerged which both claimed to be able to defeat polio: the inactivated polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk and the oral live-attenuated vaccine (frequently administered through sugar cubes) developed by Albert Sabin. Controversy existed among researchers over which one was effective and safe, however both were used in the United States throughout the twentieth century. In the 1970’s and 1980’s lawsuits were brought before U.S. government by individuals who claimed they had been infected with polio by the live oral polio vaccine campaign of 1962. In 1993, the federal district court of Maryland ruled that individuals had a legal right to sue the government for damages from the oral polio vaccine even though the 1962 oral polio vaccine (OPV) campaign had originally been considered above the law because it was deemed an extraordinary humanitarian effort. The claimants were awarded seven figure sums by the U.S. government. (The Coming Plague Laurie Garret 182. Please note, this is a very pro-vaccination book.) Vaccine acquired paralytic polio (VAPP) continued to persist through the end of the 20th century. According to the CDC, between 1980 and 1999 162 cases of paralytic polio were confirmed in the United States,  154 of which were VAPP.  So while the OPV was supposedly lowering polio rates, it was actually adding to them.

Oops.

But the OPV isn’t the only way to acquire paralytic polio. Throughout the twentieth century, provocative polio was a hotly debated phenomenon. Provocative polio is when polio is brought on (provoked) by a medical procedure. Tonsil/adenoid surgery was first implicated for polio provocation. In 1910 doctors observed that children who had throat surgery during a polio outbreak had an increased risk of contracting polio within the first 1-2 weeks after the operation. Physicians in the US Army and many leading health officials warned that it was better to hold off on tonsil surgery until after the polio season was over, though others said the risk was negligible.

One very well-documented medium for provocative polio turned out to be intramuscular injection, especially for vaccination with the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) shot. By 1952, leading health and medical organizations in the United States advised that vaccination with the DTP shot should wait until after the high season for polio was over. The problem of polio provocation persisted in third world countries where aid workers noticed children developing paralysis after receiving the DTP vaccine. In 1980, public health researchers noticed that several children had become paralyzed in the limb where they had recently received their DTP shot. (J.K. Martin described the the same occurrence in his 1949 study titled Local Paralysis in Children After Injections.)  In an effort to combat polio provocation, researchers began examining the relationship between injections and polio. In 1998, Drs. Matthias Gromeier and  Eckard Wimmer found that injury to tissue to during certain types of injections allowed the polio virus easy access to nerve channels, thereby increasing the likelihood of paralysis. The more recent HV Wyatt study from 2003 found that three-quarters of children with paralytic polio receive injections just before the onset of paralysis. So, what we have is an outbreak of a disease for which vaccination with injections was substantially responsible and we have attempted to fight it with more vaccine injections.

Ironically enough, a 2011 study from the Indian Journal of Public Health described a several cases of provocative polio brought on by vaccine injections. Because of the high rate of disability it has caused in some villages, they are now encouraging the use of the oral polio vaccine in hopes of preventing further cases of vaccine induced paralysis. Of course, the United States stopped the use of the OPV in 2000 because of the lingering problem of VAPP.

During the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s some of the research on vaccines was conducted on prison inmates and the mentally ill. Even the beloved Dr. Jonas Salk co-authored a federally funded study in 1942 in which male prison inmates were injected with an experimental vaccine and then deliberately exposed to the flu virus several months later. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/27/AR2011022700988.html pg.1 Mike Stobbe)

You have probably heard that because of the polio vaccine, parents no longer need to live in fear of their children coming home form school sick and then becoming seriously ill. Did you know you can still develop paralysis from enteroviruses like polio, despite the polio vaccine? Since polio is said to be eliminated from the United States, these types of enteroviruses are called non-polio enteroviruses. The CDC states that these viruses (often manifesting as cold-like illnesses in the summer and fall) often produce no symptoms or mild symptoms, but can cause serious infection and paralysis.  Curiously enough, despite the fact that so-called non-polio enteroviruses can potentially cause the same serious effects as polio, there is no vaccine for them and in fact the CDC recommends hand washing and good hygiene to prevent transmission.

This brings up a lot of very interesting questions. How much testing was done to determine whether a case of paralysis was caused by polio vs. non-polio enteroviruses? Could non-polio enteroviruses  have caused cases of paralysis in the pre-vaccine era? Could polio have persisted after the introduction of the vaccine, but was diagnosed as non-polio enteroviruses because doctors believed that it was impossible for a vaccinated individual to develop polio? (A sort of medical “blind spot”.)

And how about the charitable campaigns to stop polio in third world countries? How is the global polio eradication effort going?

The polio vaccine has had a very bad track record in third world countries. The April 23, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal describes how Bill Gates is having to rethink his stance on battling polio in Africa with vaccines. Mr. Gates gave $700 million dollars for a mass polio vaccination campaign in Nigeria. Despite the campaign, which included door-to-door vaccinators, polio still persists in Nigeria and in fact, half of the 1,600 cases of polio reported in 2009 happened in vaccinated individuals. The 1988-1989 outbreak of polio in the African country of Oman found that “a substantial proportion of fully vaccinated children had been involved in the chain of transmission.”

And last of all, I think it is only fitting to take a realistic look at Jonas Salk and see him as a person, not just a mythical hero. During the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s research on vaccines was conducted on prison inmates and the mentally ill. There was a definite sense that it was acceptable to experiment on people who didn’t have full rights in society; they were sacrifices for the sake of progress and science.  Like many of his contemporaries, Dr. Salk participated in human experimentation. He co-authored a federally funded study in 1942 in which mental patients were injected with an experimental vaccine and then deliberately exposed to the flu virus several months later. Most of the patients were unable to fully describe their symptoms or the procedure they were undergoing, which means that the research it yielded had serious flaws.

Salk himself was aware that there were potential dangers with polio vaccination and said “When you inoculate children with a polio vaccine, you don’t sleep well for two or three months.” His fears may have been well-founded. On April 24, 1955, polio broke out among children who had received a batch of Salk’s IPV that had been manufactured at Cutter Laboratories in California. Eleven children died as a result.

Salk was friends with Basil O’Connor, the president of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now the March of Dimes). O’Connor was known to be highly influential and the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis did a great deal of politicking and lobbying for Salk’s polio vaccine. Salk himself acknowledged that his IPV would not have gained as much traction as it did had it not been for O’Connor and the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.

Accounts from his contemporaries paint a picture of a man who was very driven and ambitious, sometimes egotistical and unwilling to appreciate the efforts of his fellow researchers in developing the IPV.

It is ironic that many of the accusations leveled at Andrew Wakefield- a disregard for test subjects, flawed data, less than altruistic motivations- could be also apply to Jonas Salk.

If we look at the facts, a very different picture of the polio vaccine begins to emerge and we find medical technology with a lot of good press but poor results. While it’s difficult to let go of the story of the story we were raised with, slaughtering the sacred cow actually is to everyone’s benefit. If we start basing our health policies on the facts about polio and not what we want to believe, we can actually start to fight the disease far more effectively.

Update 11/14/14- Where are all the children in iron lungs? Surely the fact that we no longer see children in iron lungs must be proof of polio’s eradication? Sorry, but no. In fact, since the polio vaccine, cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) have increased. India was certified polio-free, but it has some of the highest rates of AFP in the world now. AFP can cause paralysis which requires an oxygen tank (rather than an old iron lung). You’ve probably even seen children with oxygen tanks on occasion, I know I have. The United States has started seeing an increase in children with paralysis from enteroviruses as well.

Update 12/18/15 An excellent article on the many difficulties facing the polio eradication program can be found here: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/28/4/1079.full This isn’t just a problem of funding or superstitious people who refuse the vaccine. This details the very real challenges with surveillance, the live polio vaccine- especially in HIV positive individuals and a number of other obstacles that we typically don’t hear about from the news media. I highly recommend it.

Update 7/9/16- Interesting fact: In the 1954 poliomyelitis vaccine field trial for the Salk IPV vaccine, a vaccine trial group, a saline placebo group and a control group who received neither the vaccine nor the placebo were all studied for polio rates. The vaccinated group experienced polio at a rate of 28 per 100,000, the placebo group experienced polio at a rate of 69 per 100,000 and the control group who received neither experienced polio at a rate of 46 per 100,000.- Basic Biostatistics: Statistics for Public Health Practice, Second Ed., B. Burt Gerstman, pg. 30. My hypothesis for why the control group fared better than the placebo group is that the placebo group may have experienced provocative polio.