JJ’s Reading Serious Stuff About Vaccine and Public Health Foolishness

21 10 2009

Science doesn’t kill people, people kill people. With politics and mind games.
And “fear spreads as rapidly as any virus . . .”

David Shenk is the author of five books; his next book, The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told about Genetics, Talent and IQ is Wrong, will be published by Doubleday in March 2010.

Oct 20 2009, 5:59PM
Health / Medicine:
The New Pandemic of Vaccine Phobia

We no longer believe that witches control the weather or inhabit the souls of adolescent girls. We no longer believe that the earth is flat, and we have even held our ground against the pseudoscience of “intelligent design.”

Now it is time for all who respect logic, rationality, and the scientific method to come together and say NO MORE to anti-vaccine demagoguery.

No one pretends that vaccines are perfect, or 100% risk-free. But approved vaccines work. They save lives. They do not cause mercury poisoning or autism. They carry very low risks — risks almost always worth taking. And, to top it off, vaccines have become something of a civic responsibility: they work best when everyone takes them.

Six recent helpful articles:
[see at story link]

Wired Magazine is out with its new cover story about a prominent vaccine scientist and historian/biographer, who is to vaccines what Richard Dawkins is to evolution — someone who gets death threats for his modern medicine the way doctors who courageously provide women’s family planning and reproductive health care do:
An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

Then I came across a progressive Indiana pediatrician at HuffPo blogging health care and insurance reform in a way that appeals to my intelligence: RATIONAL ARGUMENTS: a blog mainly (but not entirely) about health policy. . .his radio talk about intelligently negotiating health insurance reform is here.

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16 responses

21 10 2009
Crimson Wife

The issue of The Atlantic that I just received the other day has a very interesting article on flu vaccines (both the regular seasonal one and the new H1N1 swine flu one). The authors do an excellent job debunking the hype that promoters of flu shots give.

I personally follow a selective/delayed vaccination schedule with my kids. They do eventually get most of the recommended shots, though not Hep A or B, Chicken Pox, or HPV. But I spread them out in order to minimize the risks of side effects. There are HUGE problems with the studies touted as “proving” the safety of combination vaccines. The chance of the child catching the disease in the few months between when he/she would receive the vaccine under the standard CDC schedule and when he/she receives it on a delayed schedule is very low. The parent has to weigh that risk against the risk of an adverse reaction to the combo vaccine. And for me personally, I feel the latter is a bigger concern.

21 10 2009
JJ

Those risks increase though, as more parents “feel” it’s only a private decision they can learn about from the intertubes and not also a matter of civic responsibility that experts know more about that they do as lay individuals. (Hmmm, as an armed and dangerous medical militia deciding it knows best how to protect the nation from Mexico, say?)

And the hype to worry about isn’t from flu shot promoters but from flu shot protesters and propagandists. The article I linked in the post IS from The Atlantic and that’s what it debunks, not the opposite. Imo even the one you link doesn’t either — it doesn’t address the safety or efficacy of flu shots on protecting individuals or the general population, only one narrow question of how much more likely frail and ill (especially old) folks are to die each season when they don’t get the shot.

So it doesn’t debunk the protection of individuals or the population, just argues about the magnitude of its effect, debating how many more of those folks would stay alive another year even without the shot.

21 10 2009
COD

It’s gardisil, not flu, but I thought this infographic was interesting.
http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2009/how-safe-is-the-hpv-vaccine/

Still waiting for the graph showing how many fundie teenage girls became the school slut because the doctor gave them a cancer vaccine.

21 10 2009
Crimson Wife

When even one of the researchers who tested it warns parents against Gardasil, it isn’t just religious parents who are leery of the shot.

If my daughters feel the benefits of the shot outweighs the risks when they’re adults, it will be their prerogative to get it. But I’m not going to consent to it while they’re minors.

21 10 2009
Crimson Wife

Oh, and the risk of dying of cervical cancer *IN THE UNITED STATES* isn’t anywhere even *REMOTELY* close to 500:1. There were around 4,000 deaths annually in the U.S. prior to the introduction of the vaccine. Virtually all of them were women who had not undergone a Pap smear in the previous 5 years. American women who receive annual Pap tests rarely die of cervical cancer.

21 10 2009
JJ

CW, seems to me your case would appear stronger against any vaccine if you pick either the need and effectiveness OR the risk of harm from the vaccine to attack. Objecting to both (especially based on experts when most expert opinion is on the other side) makes it seem unlikely any of it is true, that it’s all wrong. Just a thought.

22 10 2009
JJ

Discover Magazine’s Bad Astronomy blogpost about how distorted all the anti-vax science-denial hype is, led me to this MD’s blog:
Neuro-LOGICA blog: your daily fix of neuroscience, skepticism and critical thinking

23 10 2009
Crimson Wife

But the two things are related. As a parent, I have to weigh the risk of negative side effects against the risk of my kid dying or getting permanently damaged by the disease. If the risk of the latter is very low, then I’m going to demand a higher level of safety for the vaccine. I’d be willing to have my kids get a risky vaccine if it gave effective protection against a deadly, widespread disease- say the smallpox vaccine back in Edward Jenner’s day or the oral polio vaccine back when Sabin first developed it in the 1950’s.

23 10 2009
JJ

Yes, it’s true they are related, of course. In reasoning out which vaccines to choose for yourself and your children, as described.

But they ALSO are related in the interest groups agitating against vaccines. When one objection is raised with evidence to one part of one vaccine, it makes sense to bend much effort to reviewing the research and redoubling the scrutiny. But when any person or interest group objects to all of the science and all of the experts and all of the data and all of the protocols, as if any lay individual with a preacher or some blog buddies and perhaps one “expert” outlying from the mainstream, could be a more reliable brain trust to advise parents and have discovered the entire vaccine system is wrong both generally and in every particular — then these factors are related in how they work together to expose the anti-science superstitions at work, which kills their credibility on any particular.

So if they had a point or two I (for example) might have needed to know about, they won’t reach me. They have no credibility to improve the system. And their own believers will be hurt by believing too much of the anti-science. Not good for any of us.

23 10 2009
Crimson Wife

What I think would be very helpful would be for parents to have better understanding of biology, statistics, and social psychology. Biology so that they won’t get fooled by claims that simply don’t make sense. Statistics so that they will take a skeptical eye towards the claims by both sides that “research proves _________” Social psychology so that they will be less easily swayed by fearmongering on both sides.

If I were somehow in charge of the CDC, I would insist on running the type of very large, well-designed, no-financial-conflict-of-interest, prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study comparing the standard vax schedule with a delayed vax schedule that simply has not been done. That way we could know for sure what (if any) relationship there is between combo vaccines and things like autism, ADHD, cancer, etc. The existing studies on the topic simply have too many problems.

23 10 2009
JJ

You know I disagree. It is the DISEASES that have too many problems, and we do the best we can to mitigate that population threat.

23 10 2009
JJ

I just bought a book this afternoon called “Sway” about the research into why people are irrational or even anti-rational about such decisions.
More as I read . . .

24 10 2009
Nance Confer

The chance of the child catching the disease in the few months between when he/she would receive the vaccine under the standard CDC schedule and when he/she receives it on a delayed schedule is very low.

*********

And that’s the major difference? A few months?

And refusing specific vaccinations — the sex-related one, of course.

So? Does the big vax lobby object to parents spreading the vaccinations out a few months? I wouldn’t think so, not in any way that makes a difference.

And the rest of us don’t care either, I would think. A few months won’t make the difference in whether a vax is effective. That’s not the point.

Here’s what bothers me. The Mom who wants to know, urgently!, what my policy about vaccinations is, as a private school owner. My policy is I follow the law. You have the right to refuse or delay any or all vax for your children. Oh, she asked breathlessly, because she had heard that the swine flu vaccine would be required and then what would she do???? Since I had not seen anything suggesting any flu vaccine would be required of the general public, I told her that, and that she could refuse whatever vax she wanted.

“Oh,” Miss Outraged About Vaccines, said, “Really? I can?”

So you’re all upset and deciding how and where to enroll your child for school, or whether to go the other route through the county, and you, apparently, haven’t the vaguest idea how any of this works. On the most basic, visit to the pediatrician level, you don’t know what is required or allowed.

That bugs me.

Nance

24 10 2009
Nance Confer

American women who receive annual Pap tests rarely die of cervical cancer.

***Another reason we need healthcare reform.

***Although I have to wonder what this means, really. You get your annual Pap smear and cervical cancer is discovered and what? All is right with the world or there is some horrible, lengthy, debilitating treatment but you don’t die. You just wish you did?

Nance

24 10 2009
JJ

What bugs me is people (as individuals and through fancy sounding foundations and even so-called journalism) purposely obfuscating and making it so hard for anyone to sort out what’s factual and real and right.

It’s just all too fraught.

There was a time when I could read and accept a straightforward statement of “fact” like that: “American women who receive annual Pap tests rarely die of cervical cancer.” Back then I thought I lived in a world where other people, especially supposedly moral people worried about salvation and following a mainstream religion, were trustworthy enough not to make such statements about this world if they didn’t really KNOW, and anyone engaged in a conspiracy to misinform was exposed or so marginalized that you’d know it.

Now I can’t. It’s all too exhausting and depressing to have to challenge every single thing every single person asserts as fact to even have a conversation, much less to make sound decisions.

24 10 2009
Nance Confer

It is sad. Every conversation has to go through the lie detector stage. And here I think I’m having a real conversation only to find out, in so many cases, that the other party didn’t care if his “facts” were actually spin or outright lies. Exhausting and sad and disappointing.

Nance

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