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Autism, vaccines and fear

Posted in News by Skepdude on February 4, 2010

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT THE GLOBE AND MAIL

In 1998, The Lancet, a leading British medical journal, published a research study that triggered one of the biggest health scares of modern times. It claimed that autism was linked to children’s vaccines. The evidence was sketchy – it was based on only 12 cases – but Andrew Wakefield, its lead author, became an instant media celebrity.

Over the next few years, Dr. Wakefield was depicted as a courageous maverick who dared to defy the medical establishment. People’s trust in public health – already tested by the mad-cow scare – collapsed and vaccination rates plunged. Before The Lancet article, the vaccination rate for MMR – the three-in-one shot for measles, mumps and rubella – had reached 91 per cent. A few years later, the rate had slipped to less than 50 per cent in some parts of London, and was far too low to prevent serious outbreaks. In 2008, measles was again declared endemic in the U.K.

The vaccination hysteria proved contagious. In Canada and the U.S., anti-vaccination groups warned about the dangers of thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines (although never used in the MMR one). Parent groups blamed vaccines and environmental toxins for what they said was an autism epidemic. They launched multimillion-dollar lawsuits (all unsuccessful) against vaccine makers, whose product costs, because of legal bills, went up.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. accused the U.S. government and top scientists of a vast conspiracy to cover up the link between vaccines and autism, and celebrity autism mom Jenny McCarthy argued the case on Oprah .

It’s hard to blame parents of autistic kids for grasping at causes and cures. The causes are poorly understood, and the chance of cure is exceedingly remote. Life with an autistic child is unrelentingly hard. Untested treatments, and claims of cure, run rampant. The field is prone to “pseudoscience and quackery,” says Michael Fitzgerald, a British autism expert and long-time critic of Dr. Wakefield.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT THE GLOBE AND MAIL

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Breaking News: Australian antivax group to shut down

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 3, 2010

The great news keep on coming! First the bomb dowsing magic stick was discredited, then Andrew Wakefield first got torn to pieces by the GMC and then the Lancet retracted his 1998 paper that sparked the MMR-causes-autism scare, thus dealing a deadly blow to the anti-vaccine movement. And today we get news that Meryl Dorey the head of the grossly misnamed Australian Vaccination Network is resigning and unless huge amounts of donations come in the AVN itself will close its doors by the end of February. Woot!

After almost 17 years of running the AVN, it is my bittersweet duty to inform you that within the next 3-4 weeks I will tendering my resignation as President of this great organisation and moving on to the next stage of my own personal development as mother, wife, activist and researcher.

Alternatively, if a benefactor or series of benefactors come forward to establish a fund that would guarantee the AVN’s existence for at least the next 2-3 years, or if donations were to be come in during the next week that would give us the same financial sustainability, then I would be willing to continue in my role for the foreseeable future.

If nobody comes forward to take on the role of President or if the funds are not provided to allow us to continue however, the AVN will be ceasing operations on or about the 28th of February.

Yeah, they’re asking for all their supporters to give up 1% of their incomes to support the AVN. I hope that does not happen. The AVN, while it may be guided by a desire to do good, is seriously misguided and what it does is hurt the very same children it aims to protect. Unfortunately bad deeds can be done out of the best of intentions, so while I don’t doubt that the motivations of most of these folks are to do good, that doesn’t make them any less dead wrong! So yes I am happy to hear this news, and can’t wait to see what Thursday and Friday will bring us. Chalk another one up to reason!

The only bad news is that Dory hasn’t seen the light, metaphorically speaking. The decision to resign and possibly shut down the AVN was a purely financial one; it appears she intends to keep up her fight for the right to spread misinformation as a “researcher” and writer, which roughly can be translated in “there’s a book coming out soon enough”, am I right? It would have been better if she’d actually understood that she is wrong and had decided to accept reality, especially in the wake of the Wakefield scandal, but that does not appear to be the case, but I’m keeping hope alive. You just never know!

Breaking News: Andrew Wakefield in deep sh#$

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on January 28, 2010

UK’s General Medical Council (GMC) has concluded that Andrew Wakefield has “failed in his duties as a responsible consultant” England’s Sky News reports.

Dr Andrew Wakefield showed a “callous disregard” for children’s suffering and abused his position of trust, the GMC’s disciplinary panel found.

His conduct brought the medical profession “into disrepute” after he took blood samples from youngsters at his son’s birthday party in return for payments of £5.

He also acted dishonestly and was misleading and irresponsible in the way he described research later published in The Lancet medical journal, the panel of experts ruled at a hearing in London.

Wow, those are strong words, callous disregard, abuse, disrepute, dishonestly, misleading, irresponsible! How many adjectives like these are left unused? But this surprises us in the skeptical movement not a single bit; we’ve been pointing out the problem with Dr. Wakefield’s research for a while, though probably not in such strong terms as the GMC just did.

But that’s not the end of it. Dr. Wakefield may lose his license apparently.

Dr Wakefield now faces being struck off the medical register after the panel decided the allegations against him could amount to serious professional misconduct, which will be decided at a later date.

Let us watch the antivax crowd go apeshit to deify Wakefield as some sort of hero being framed by Big Pharma as part of their evil conspiracy. And now the mike goes to Age of Autism who’s bound to spew more stupidity than Mike Adams showered on us over the past week or so.

Measles kills the unvaccinated in Zimbabwe

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on December 29, 2009

CNN reports that 22 people, most of them children, have died of measles in Zimbabwe.

WHO’s head in Zimbabwe, Dr. Custodia Mandlhate, told journalists in Harare the outbreak has totaled more than 340 suspected cases this year, and “this is not acceptable.” She said the outbreak came about “mainly because of people who have denied their children vaccination.”

She said that all of the 22 people who died were unvaccinated. Measles is a disease that can be easily prevented with the MMR vaccine.  Since the MMR vaccine was introduced in the US, measles cases have gone down by 99%.   According to the CDC website:

However, measles is still common in other countries. The virus is highly contagious and can spread rapidly in areas where vaccination is not widespread. It is estimated that in 2007 there were 197,000 measles deaths worldwide—that equals about 540 deaths every day or about 22 deaths every hour.

Thus, what has happened in Zimbabwe is not an isolated case. It happens worldwide every hour. There is a simple lesson in these stats. Vaccines save lives. Not vaccinating causes death, mommy instincts be damned!

Hospital workers fired for refusing vaccinations

Posted in SkepticBlog by Skepdude on December 10, 2009

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT SKEPTICBLOG

NBC is reporting that several workers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia were fired for refusing to get vaccinated. CHP cares for very sick children, many of whom have compromised immune systems or are too young to get vaccinated.

The twist? Some of the employees refused vaccinations for religious reasons:

“I am a Christian, and my religion prohibits me from receiving vaccines,” said Tyrika Cowlay, who was a lab technician.

First and foremost, this isn’t a religious issue. It’s a safety issue. I mean, c’mon. We know vaccinations prevent the spread of diseases, especially among children, and even more so among those who are too young to be vaccinated themselves — herd immunity is all those infants have.

Second, I’m thinking that if your religion forbids you from vaccinations (and to my knowledge, mainstream Christianity does not preclude them), then maybe a children’s hospital isn’t the best line of work for you (any more than an orthdox Jew should work at a pork rendering factory). That may seem harsh, but let’s replace a few words in the linked article and see how you feel:

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT SKEPTICBLOG

Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason for 2009 goes to the brave parents of Dana McCaffery

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on December 3, 2009

You remember the sad story of little Dana McCaffery who, unfortunately contracted and succumbed to whopping cough when she was only a few weeks old, thus too young to be vaccinated. I’ve linked to blog posts about this  story in the past, one was written by her father, David a while back. The AVN (Assholes deVoid of Neurons) league, the australian equivalent of Age of Autism and Generation Rescue, the probably well-meaning but too dense to know their right hand from their left group of incompletely evolved primates jumped all over this case and their “leader”, one Meryl Dorey, even went so far as appearing on australian TV, with the McCaffery’s present and proceeded to make a complete ass of herself and the sorry band of  losers she heads all the while armed with unwavering arrogance on her ignorance.

Ok, now that I got that out of my system, let’s go back to the good news. The McCaffery’s have been awarded the first Annual The Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason, a.k.a “Fred”, for their courage to fight back the lunatics in the public square through TV appearances and by promoting sound, science-based medicine, trying to turn the horrible personal tragedy they went through, into something positive so that other children, and their parents, may be spared the pain and suffering the McCaffery’s have had to endure.

As reported in the Australian Skeptics website:

The Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason for 2009 went to Toni and David McCaffery. The McCafferys lost their daughter Dana Elizabeth McCaffery in March 2009 at 4 weeks of age from Whooping Cough. Sadly, she is one of three babies that have died from this vaccine preventable disease in Australia this year. Since then Toni and David have been tireless campaigners both for the benefits of vaccination and against the tide of scaremongering and misinformation regarding the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

Toni and David decided to donate the money awarded to them to the Children’s Hospital Westmead, who are commencing a study into the link between mothers’ pertussis antibodies and babies diagnosed with Pertussis, in an effort to prevent it.

“We implore people when they want information they access reputable sources,” Mrs McCaffery said.

I think a more fitting choice to receive this award doesn’t exist.  And I couldn’t say it better than the Bad Astronomer did in his coverage of this event:

To Toni and David: I am so, so sorry you were eligible for this award, but I am very, very glad you two have done what you’ve done. Congratulations. And may your story save more lives than the AVN and its ilk can endanger.

PS: Toni and David have set up a website in honor of Dana, so that her story may always be remembered and their efforts to promote good health practices for all children may not be in vain. Toni and David…YOU ROCK!

Swine Flu Vaccine Fears Debunked

Posted in News by Skepdude on October 23, 2009

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT DISCOVERY NEWS

Oct. 23, 2009 — With school closings, a run on face masks, and even a flu-tracker iPhone app, it’s clear that swine flu is taking the country by storm.

As of this month, the flu, now called the 2009 H1N1 influenza, was widespread among people of all ages in 41 states, and it has been reported in all 50. Numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are unusually high for this time of year. And the situation is likely to get worse.

To stem the pandemic, the U.S. government is urging just about everyone older than 6 months to get the H1N1 vaccine as doses of the shot and nasal spray eventually become available for more than just high-risk groups.

Yet, while some people are waiting for hours in line to get themselves or their children vaccinated, others are avoiding it — convinced that the H1N1 vaccine is unnecessary or even unsafe. Scientists are fighting hard to tackle those misconceptions.

“These are urban myths and you can’t even track them down,” said Greg Poland, Director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group in Rochester, Minn. “Someone says something that spreads virally from person to person and becomes truth in their minds.”

Here are expert answers to some of the most common concerns.

Concern #1: Swine flu is no big deal. It’s just another example of media hype.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT DISCOVERY NEWS

An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

Posted in News by Skepdude on October 20, 2009

Skepdude says – Excellent article! Loved every line of it. This should be mandatory reading for any skeptic!

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT WIRED.COM

To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America. A pediatrician in Philadelphia, he is the coinventor of a rotavirus vaccine that could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Yet environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slams Offit as a “biostitute” who whores for the pharmaceutical industry. Actor Jim Carrey calls him a profiteer and distills the doctor’s attitude toward childhood vaccination down to this chilling mantra: “Grab ‘em and stab ‘em.” Recently, Carrey and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, went on CNN’s Larry King Live and singled out Offit’s vaccine, RotaTeq, as one of many unnecessary vaccines, all administered, they said, for just one reason: “Greed.”

Thousands of people revile Offit publicly at rallies, on Web sites, and in books. Type pauloffit.com into your browser and you’ll find not Offit’s official site but an anti-Offit screed “dedicated to exposing the truth about the vaccine industry’s most well-paid spokesperson.” Go to Wikipedia to read his bio and, as often as not, someone will have tampered with the page. The section on Offit’s education was once altered to say that he’d studied on a pig farm in Toad Suck, Arkansas. (He’s a graduate of Tufts University and the University of Maryland School of Medicine).

Then there are the threats. Offit once got an email from a Seattle man that read, “I will hang you by your neck until you are dead!” Other bracing messages include “You have blood on your hands” and “Your day of reckoning will come.” A few years ago, a man on the phone ominously told Offit he knew where the doctor’s two children went to school. At a meeting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an anti-vaccine protester emerged from a crowd of people holding signs that featured Offit’s face emblazoned with the word terrorist and grabbed the unsuspecting, 6-foot-tall physician by the jacket.

“I don’t think he wanted to hurt me,” Offit recalls. “He was just excited to be close to the personification of such evil.” Still, whenever Offit gets a letter with an unfamiliar return address, he holds the envelope at arm’s length before gingerly tearing it open. “I think about it,” he admits. “Anthrax.”

So what has this award-winning 58-year-old scientist done to elicit such venom? He boldly states — in speeches, in journal articles, and in his 2008 book Autism’s False Prophets — that vaccines do not cause autism or autoimmune disease or any of the other chronic conditions that have been blamed on them. He supports this assertion with meticulous evidence. And he calls to account those who promote bogus treatments for autism — treatments that he says not only don’t work but often cause harm.

As a result, Offit has become the main target of a grassroots movement that opposes the systematic vaccination of children and the laws that require it. McCarthy, an actress and a former Playboy centerfold whose son has been diagnosed with autism, is the best-known leader of the movement, but she is joined by legions of well-organized supporters and sympathizers.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT WIRED.COM

An Open Letter to Bill Maher on Vaccinations

Posted in News by Skepdude on October 16, 2009

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT (I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M LINKNG HERE) HUFFINGTON POST

From Fellow Skeptic Michael Shermer
Editor of Skeptic magazine and “Skeptic” columnist for Scientific American

Dear Bill,

Years ago you invited me to appear as a fellow skeptic several times on your ABC show Politically Incorrect, and I have ever since shared your skepticism on so many matters important to both of us: creationism and intelligent design, religious supernaturalism and New Age paranormal piffle, 9/11 “truthers”, Obama “birthers”, and all manner of conspiratorial codswallop. On these matters, and many others, you rightly deserved the Richard Dawkins Award from Richard’s foundation, which promotes reason and science.

However, I believe that when it comes to alternative medicine in general and vaccinations in particular you have fallen prey to the same cognitive biases and conspiratorial thinking that you have so astutely identified in others. In fact, the very principle of how vaccinations work is additional proof (as if we needed more) against the creationists that evolution happened and that natural selection is real: vaccinations work by tricking the body’s immune system into thinking that it has already had the disease for which the vaccination was given. Our immune system “adapts” to the invading pathogens and “evolves” to fight them, such that when it encounters a biologically similar pathogen (which itself may have evolved) it has in its armory the weapons needed to fight it. This is why many of us born in the 1950s and before may already have some immunity against the H1N1 flu because of its genetic similarity to earlier influenza viruses, and why many of those born after really should get vaccinated.

Vaccinations are not 100% effective, nor are they risk free. But the benefits far outweigh the risks, and when communities in the U.S. and the U.K. in recent years have foregone vaccinations in large numbers, herd immunity is lost and communicable diseases have come roaring back. This is yet another example of evolution at work, but in this case it is working against us. (See http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org for numerous articles answering every one of the objections to vaccinations.)

Vaccination is one of science’s greatest discoveries. It is with considerable irony, then, that as a full-throated opponent of the nonsense that calls itself Intelligent Design, your anti-vaccination stance makes you something of an anti-evolutionist. Since you have been so vocal in your defense of the theory of evolution, I implore you to be consistent in your support of the theory across all domains and to please reconsider your position on vaccinations. It was not unreasonable to be a vaccination skeptic in the 1880s, which the co-discovered of natural selection–Alfred Russel Wallace–was, but we’ve learned a lot over the past century. Evolution explains why vaccinations work. Please stop denying evolution in this special case.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT (I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M LINKNG HERE) HUFFINGTON POST

More Nonsense from Dr. Jay Gordon

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on October 15, 2009

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT NEUROLOGICA

Dr. Jay Gordon is a pediatrician to a particular subculture of pseudoscientific celebrities, such as Jenny McCarthy. He lends his MD cred to this community. He also appears, in my opinion, to be a shameless self-promoter – one of those pop professionals (Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil) who has sold his soul for some easy celebrity.

Regardless of his motivations, he has been spouting arrogant nonsense about vaccines for years, essentially arguing that his clinical gut feeling and anecdotal experience trump the actual science. This is exactly the wrong approach to science-based medicine.

In a recent open letter on his website, he adds to the anti-vax chorus advising not to get the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine. It’s almost as if this crowd wants to maximize the morbidity and suffering from this somewhat preventable disease. I know this is not literally true, but their ideologically motivated and confused actions will have the same effect.

Gordon starts his letter with, of course, some anecdotal evidence from his practice, admitting that he is seeing many cases of flu-like illness over this summer, but:

They all felt miserable, and they are all feeling just fine now.

The implication here is that H1N1 is not that bad. In an average flu season, 30,000 Americans die from the flu. By all accounts, we are in for at least a very heavy flu season, and H1N1 has been killing more young and otherwise healthy people as well as pregnant women (while the regular flu tends to kill the old and infirm). Again we see Gordon perfectly willing to substitute his own anecdotes for hard data.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT NEUROLOGICA