Vaccination Op-Ed (Lexington Herald Leader 05 Feb 2015)

I’m grateful to the Lexington Herald Leader for publication of an op-ed piece I wrote on Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s uninformed comments on vaccinations.  Both Paul and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have made potentially damaging comments on the topic this week.

In the face of a burgeoning measles outbreak, there are countless Americans who would love to take advantage of vaccines but cannot because of their age or existing medical conditions. They are relying on the rest of us to make unselfish decisions in the interest of public health.  We in turn need to be able to rely on representatives like Senator Paul and Governor Christie, who are in unique positions to shape health policies.  Given the statements they’ve made recently, I’m not so sure that we can.

You can read the op-ed here.

herald

A Great Vaccine Debate On CNN

In case you missed it, CNN hosted a fun debate last night (Thursday, January 29).1

Dr. Armand Dorian gets my vote for Man of the Year for calling out “Dr.” Jack Wolfson over his unscientific positions on vaccines and the current measles outbreak in California and 13 other states.  I’ve linked the video below.  Even though CNN sneaks in a 30 second commercial at the beginning, it’s well worth sitting through just to hear Dorian deliver the truth: it’s hard to believe that Wolfson has a medical license.  The man is literally doing harm to his patients.

cnn debate capture

Dorian and Wolfson debate. Click to launch video.

Dorian is a doctor and debunks Wolfson far better than I ever could, so please watch the video, linked here.  But I can’t resist commenting.  Some of Wolfson’s more ridiculous statements are that:

(1) We’re injecting chemicals in our children’s bodies (when we vaccinate).
Well, duh.  Our bodies are made up of chemicals.  Everything we eat and drink is a chemical.  Everything we see, touch, taste, and feel is a chemical.  Dr. Wolfson, here’s a beautiful online version of the periodic table of the elements.2  You should have studied this in grade school.  Chemicals!  Oh my God, they’re everywhere!

According to the CDC, measles is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable death in children.3  Doctors agree that’s a really good reason to inject those chemicals.  They’re saving lives.

(2) Measles results in “typically benign childhood conditions”
Death is not a benign condition.  The CDC says for every 1000 children who get measles, 1 or 2 will die.4  One out of every four who contract the disease will be hospitalized. There is no cure for measles. Getting the vaccine is safer than coming down with the disease. Measles can lead to swelling of the brain and severe respiratory problems.5  And, oh yeah… did I mention death?

(3) “Our children have the right to get infections”
The “right” to get infections?

Sometimes you encounter a statement that’s so utterly stupid there’s just no response.  I suppose our children have the right to die in car crashes, but I’d like to prevent that.

Speaking of car crashes…

(4) “Bad things can happen to anybody.  We can be in a car accident.”
When host Erin Burnett points out to Wolfson that unvaccinated people are in fact dying from measles, he responds with “Bad things can happen to anybody.  We can be in a car accident.”

Yes doctor.  And that’s why we wear seat belts.  There’s some good science behind the seat belt concept, just as there is behind the measles vaccine.  Before the vaccine was invented in the 1960s, there were up to four million cases of the disease in the USA each year, with an average of 48,000 hospitalizations.5  Thanks to the vaccine, measles was eliminated in this country by the year 2000.6  Now, thanks to anti-vaccination campaigns and quack doctors, measles is making a comeback.

(5) “They [our children] need to get appropriate chiropractic care.  Actual healthy doctors […]”
Chiropractors are not doctors.  They have no medical training.  There’s nothing about chiropractic training or care that remotely begins to address handling a virus, which is what causes the measles.

For this statement alone, I agree with Dorian: Wolfson should not be practicing medicine.  He’s violating the Hippocratic oath.

 

Image Credits
CNN screen snapshot is used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

References
(1) Watch Doctors Have Heated Debate Over Vaccination
http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2015/01/30/erin-panel-anti-vaccination-debate.cnn

(2) Periodic Table of the Elements
http://www.ptable.com/

(3) CDC Global Health – Measles, Rubella, and CRS
http://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/measles/

(4) CDC: Measles: Make Sure Your Child Is Fully Immunized
http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Measles/

(5) CDC/American Academy of Pediatrics Bulletin
http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/measles/downloads/dis-measles-color-office.pdf

(6) CDC: Frequently Asked Questions about Measles in the U.S.
http://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/faqs.html

Which is Safer: Vaccines or Illnesses?

An internet alternative medicine fringe web site, Modern Alternative Mama (MAMA), has begun promoting “Vaccine Injury Awareness Month” in conjunction with (an announced) dangerous campaign to hawk natural cures for cancer, in scientific mockery of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I’ll debunk the cancer quackery when it’s published by MAMA, but since the vaccine nonsense came first, I’ll have a go at it in this article.  The MAMA article, “Which is Safer: Vaccines or Illnesses?” 1, solemnly informs us that:

whatweneedxamLet’s get started…

How Dangerous are these Diseases?
This is best answered using pre- and post-vaccination numbers for the United States from a well-referenced article by the National Network for Immunization Information (NNii)2:

  • Before 1985, Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib) caused serious infections in 20,000 children each year.   In 2002, there were 34 cases.
  • In the 1964-65 rubella epidemic, 12.5 million people were infected.  Of the 20,000 babies born with rubella, 11,600 were deaf, 3,580 were blind, and 1,800 were mentally retarded.  There were only 4 cases of congenital rubella between 2001 and 2004.
  • In 1952, polio paralyzed more than 21,000 people.  In 2002, the United States was polio-free.
  • In the 1920s up to 200,000 cases of diphtheria were reported each year, killing up to  3,000 annually. In 2002, the number of cases in the USA: one.
  • Prior to 1963, measles killed more than more than 500 people per year out of an infected total of more than 3 million/year.  In 2002, there were 44 cases of measles nationwide.  (Recently, when vaccination rates dropped due to anti-vaxxers, serious outbreaks of the disease occurred in unvaccinated persons in states such as California and Ohio.  Ohio alone exceeded the entire 2002 nationwide total).
  • In the 1940s, whooping cough killed up to 8,000 children per year, infecting an average of 175,000 per year.  In 2002, only 771 cases were reported.

Despite all of this, MAMA somehow concludes:

ooopsNo MAMA.  The people more likely to get any of these preventable diseases are the people who have not been vaccinated.  Look at the statistics.

How Dangerous are These Vaccines?
MAMA’s best answer to this question is given in her quote here:

donotbelieveUnfortunately, in science, what one person believes or doesn’t believe doesn’t matter.  “I don’t believe it” and conspiracy theories figure heavily into MAMA’s work.

Resorting to scare tactics in the guise of science, MAMA then pulls a package insert from an MMR vaccine and lists every possible side effect, including:

sidesIt’s interesting to note MAMA’s hypocrisy here as we quote her article’s thoughts on scare tactics, regarding CDC commentary on ear infections as a vaccine side effect:

scare2MAMA isn’t a bit shy about listing “death” as a possible side effect of the MMR vaccine (which has never been proven6), but that doesn’t stop her from accusing the CDC of fear-mongering.  Not to mention openly lying in saying that the CDC statement concludes that hearing loss is likely.

MAMA’s fear-mongering continues with a cherry-picked statistic from the national Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS):

vaers1What MAMA doesn’t tell you is the most important thing about VAERS: anyone can file a VAERS report.  No cause-effect relationship between a vaccination and the reported problem is ever established.  For example, I can get the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination tomorrow, get food poisoning at lunch from a bad burrito, and report the resulting vomiting and diarrhea to VAERS as a reaction to the vaccine, and into the database it goes. 7  This disclaimer is in the first paragraph of the VAERS database description.

The irony thickens.  Had MAMA actually read the VAERS introduction, she would have seen the disclaimer:

“VAERS data contains coincidental events” 7

… and she wouldn’t write mind-numbingly contradictory tripe like this in the introduction to her article, where she demands hard evidence, not stories, in the vaccine debate:

vaers3Yes MAMA, please… no scary tales.  If you’re going to quote from the VAERS database, understand what it is first.  Really.  Please.

Are There Any Benefits to These Diseases?
I’ll leave that up to the reader.

Are blindness, deafness, paralyzation, mental retardation, and death beneficial?

Anyone?

Third World Countries

Perhaps the most offensive part of the the MAMA article deals with Africa.

The article is written in debate/response format, addressed to a reader named Erich, who she tries to shame (along with the CDC) as a fear-mongerer for pointing out the elephant in the room regarding vaccinations and disease.  Before I give you the answer, let’s see if you can figure it out by reading a passage directed to Erich:

canwejustagreeNo MAMA, we cannot agree, because it’s piss-poor science.  You admit you have the data.  Maybe you should have looked at it.  Since you picked Africa, I’ll pick Africa.  Let’s talk polio, which has been eradicated in the USA (your “first world” country) thanks to vaccinations:

According to UNICEF, more than 70% of the world’s children who have not been vaccinated against polio live either in Africa or Asia. 3

Polio remains an active problem in ten countries worldwide.  Of those countries, eight are in Africa:  Angola, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo,  Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. 4,5

Eight poorly vaccinated countries.  No wonder MAMA wants to dismiss Africa.

Polio in the Wild (CDC image)

Polio in the Wild (CDC image)

MAMA’s dismissal of immunization statistics regarding Africa is not only scientifically dishonest, it’s also, IMHO, heartless.  African children are not being vaccinated because of socioeconomic conditions (poverty, war, etc.).  According to UNICEF, one impoverished child dies every 20 seconds from a disease preventable by a vaccine.

“Children in remote rural regions and impoverished areas of cities in poor and emerging countries are not being vaccinated” — UNICEF Report

… and, of course, children in “first world” countries such as the USA are being vaccinated… unless MAMA gets her way.

Figures lie, and liars figure…

A large part of the MAMA article involves some very hazy math prefaced repeatedly by her favorite term “let’s assume”.  Rather than combat fictional numbers, I’ll simply point out that she quotes from the CDC “Pink Book” (Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases) which supports her anti-vaccine numbers like a flea supports an elephant on its back.  But then we get this gem:

notsureWhy oh why would you rely on statistics from a source you don’t believe is accurate?  And why oh why would you write a supposedly science-based article and lace it with statements about your beliefs, and your assumptions, rather than hard numbers?

Why?

assumeBecause when you assume, and base your pseudoscience on personal beliefs, you can make anything seem true.

 

References
(Please note: to avoid increasing search engine positioning for dubious, quack web sites, I use the excellent DoNotLink.com redirect service for hyperlinks to these sites).

(1) Which is Safer: Vaccines or Illnesses?  (original MAMA article)
http://www.donotlink.com/bw1o

(2)  Vaccine Effectiveness:  Do vaccines work?
http://www.immunizationinfo.org/parents/why-immunize

(3) UNICEF Immunization
http://www.unicef.org/immunization/index_bigpicture.html

(4)  UNICEF Polio
http://www.unicef.org/immunization/polio/

(5) Interim CDC Guidance for Polio Vaccination for Travel to and from Countries Affected by Wild Polio Virus
http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6327a4.htm

(6)   MMR (Measles, Mumps, & Rubella) Vaccine
http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/mmr.html#reaction

(7)  VAERS Data
https://vaers.hhs.gov/data/index