Standing Tall for Vaccines

“Who fears or rejects vaccines, why do they do so, and how might we reach them to change their minds?” On Aetiology, Tara C. Smith answers these questions with a new paper written as a primer for those who want to stand up for vaccination. She says, “for many individuals on the vaccine-hesitant spectrum, it’s not only about misinformation, but also about group identity, previous experience with the health care field, and much more.” The stakes of the vaccine debate are high. On Respectful Insolence, a mathematical model from Stanford shows that slight dips in uptake of the MMR vaccine would cause the number of measles cases in the U.S. to balloon. Meanwhile, in Europe, measles has killed dozens of people in the last year amidst thousands of cases that could have been prevented with a shot (or sufficient herd immunity). Orac blames Europe’s problems squarely on Andrew Wakefield, and as for the bubbling tensions in the U.S., Orac says “antivaxers have figured out how to weaponize their views by coupling them to right wing rhetoric about ‘freedom.'”

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Trump Preps for War on Vaccines

In the latest of a series of appointments that are poised to contravene scientific and medical consensus, Donald Trump met with anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for the purpose of forming a commission on “vaccine safety.” On The Pump Handle, Kim Krisberg says “Kennedy is a lawyer — not a scientist, doctor, child health expert or public health practitioner” yet Trump wants to charge him with “reviewing the safety of one of the greatest life-saving tools of the 20th century.” Like Kennedy, Trump says that vaccines can cause autism, and as Orac notes on Respectful Insolence, “compared to the flip-flops Trump has pulled off regarding beliefs in a variety of areas, Trump’s views on vaccines and autism have been remarkably consistent.” Meanwhile, on Confessions of a Science Librarian, John Dupuis picks up on an article that jokes Trump “will require all reviewers for all journals and grant agencies to end all reviews with the word ‘Sad!'” and may even “Make Astrophysics Great Again.” John says “One word peer review is going to be Huuuuugggggggeeeeee!”

See also:

Inauguration day: How President Trump could undermine trust in vaccines 
on Respectful Insolence

Refusing Healthy Communities via Vaccine Exemptions

A new review of the scientific literature confirms the truth about vaccine exemptions; they endanger everyone. On The Pump Handle, Kim Krisberg outlines the horrible realities of vaccine-preventable disease, and writes that vaccine refusal has “accelerated the resurgence of whooping cough and measles here in the U.S.” On Respectful Insolence, Orac writes “the MMR [vaccine] is very effective against measles, over 90%, but not 100%.” Meanwhile, with whooping cough, vaccine-induced immunity wears down over time.

These windows of opportunity for infection would be inconsequential in a fully vaccinated population, but with a certain percentage of kids running around unvaccinated due to the religious or ‘philosophical’ objections of their parents, an outbreak of these diseases can easily spread. As Orac writes, “Despite what antivaccine parents claim, their choice not to vaccinate does impact more than just their children and themselves. It impacts the entire community in which they live negatively.” On Aetiology, Tara C Smith says: “this is, again, one of my biggest problems with those who refuse vaccines. They frame the issue as solely ‘my child, my choice.’ Which is fine, until you put that child in with the rest of society via school, or daycare, or even trips to McDonald’s.”

Genetic Drifters

On Pharyngula, PZ Myers criticizes the stubborn obfuscations of Michael Behe, who refuses to yield his illogical calculations. Behe says (rightly) that a certain mutation necessary for drug resistance in the malaria parasite has about a 1 in 1020 chance of occurring. But the mutation is also detected in 96% of malaria patients who respond well to the drug; it proliferated widely because, by itself, it had no impact on the parasite’s fitness. The parasite needed another mutation, occurring at a later date, to develop resistance to the drug. Behe rests his case for divine intervention on the basis of bad math; as PZ writes, “It was crude, stupid, and ridiculous when J. Random Creationist was doing it, and it’s even worse when a guy with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, who ought to know better, panders to the mob of creationists who don’t even grasp middle school mathematics by using fallacious operations in probability.” Meanwhile, Orac reports that one of the flu strains targeted by this year’s vaccine “has undergone what is referred to as ‘genetic drift,'” making the vaccine less effective than desired. Yet the vaccine still offers protection against about 57% of circulating strains. On Life Lines, Dr. Dolittle shares research that says consuming caffeine while pregnant can effect genes in the baby’s heart. In total, researchers “identified 124 genes and 849 transcripts that were altered by exposure to caffeine in utero.” And on ERV, Abbie Smith reviews the evolutionary trajectory of HIV, which may be tending toward a ‘truce’ with human hosts.

Freedom Fighters vs. Weak Positions

On Aardvarchaeology, Martin Rundkvist tells the story of a 14-year old Swedish Muslim girl who also happens to be very good at karate. Recently this young woman was disqualified from a tournament because she wears a veil and the rules state “that the umpire needs to be able to watch for damage to each contestant’s throat.” She was also disqualified from solo performance, despite that lack of potential for neck damage. Martin writes, “Things are changing in the karate world. You couldn’t compete wearing any kind of veil until last year. When it became allowed, Iran’s women’s team immediately won a world cup medal at kata – wearing regulation veils.” Meanwhile, on Pharyngula, PZ Myers takes a few stabs at ‘ludicrous’ assumptions, saying they lead to “absurdities like the paleo diet, in which it’s assumed that we should eat like cavemen, because evolution.” And on Respectful Insolence, Orac calmly parries the ignorant fear-mongering of online activists fantasizing about cancer cells in vaccines.

Choosy Moms Choose Measles

When a parent chooses not to vaccinate their child, they put many other people at risk. Some infants cannot be vaccinated due to medical complications, and even fully-vaccinated people are not always fully protected. Jessica Parsons tells the story of baby Finn on Aetiology, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma at the age of 3 months and has been undergoing chemotherapy, surgery, and blood transfusions ever since. Because he was immunosuppressed, Finn could not be vaccinated, and despite responding well to cancer treatments, his life was imperiled by a case of whooping cough. Meanwhile, on ERV, Abbie Smith explains that vaccination against measles does not guarantee that you will not contract and even transmit the disease. But 87% of measles infections in 2011 in the U.S. occurred in unvaccinated individuals. These are the people keeping antiquated pathogens in circulation, endangering the lives and well-being of others.

If Toxins Cause Autism, They’re Not in Vaccines

Do environmental factors such as toxins contribute to autism? On Respectful Insolence, Orac looks at a new study which found a correlation between birth defects and the eventual development of autism. Orac says this correlation has already been demonstrated, along with “autism and exposure to teratogens, specifically at least maternal rubella infection, thalidomide, valproic acid, and misoprostol.” But could other chemicals be influencing higher rates of birth defects and autism in certain areas? Many people believe that autism-inducing toxins are found in vaccines. But autism’s correlation with birth defects and its tendency to cluster in certain geographic areas suggest that the risk of autism could be determined before birth and/or by exposure to regional chemical concentrations, not to a nation-wide standard of care. Besides, no credible research has ever shown a link between vaccines and autism. And the risks of not vaccinating can be dire: on Aetiology, Tara C. Smith writes “infectious diseases still injure and kill, despite our nutritional status, despite appropriate vitamin D levels, despite sanitation improvements, despite breastfeeding, despite handwashing, despite everything we do to keep our kids healthy.” With scientific understanding offering so much opportunity to raise a healthy child, why do some parents still draw the line at vaccines?