Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

3 kids in 1,000 have Tourettes – watch out for the anti-vaccine outcry

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 4, 2009

A new estimate claims that 3 out of every 1,000 children have Tourettes Syndrom, mostly boys. It’s an epidemic! Expect the anti vaccine crowd to jump on this and try to use it to pump their stupid “green our vaccines” mumbo jumbo mojo! Because, if something goes wrong with our children, well it must be the vaccines no? And this estimate is probably a low ball anyway:

“These are diagnosed cases, not necessarily all the cases that are out there,” noted study author Lawrence D. Scahill, an associate professor of nursing and child psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. “There is good reason to believe it’s an underestimate of the likely prevalence.”

Which makes it even more likely that the Jenny McCarthys and Jim Carreys of this world will find this bit of news appealing. “There goes anther childhood disease cause by vaccines” they will likely claim. “When will we draw the line?” they will ask.

That, I think, is a very appropriate question indeed.

Pockets of Vaccine Noncompliance in California

Posted in Science Based Medicine by Skepdude on April 1, 2009

The LA Times recently published their analysis of data provided them by the state of California and found that there are pockets of high rates of exemption from vaccines among kindergarteners. In the US public schools require that all children receive the recommended vaccines. However, states can allow exemptions for the religious beliefs of the parents.

Over the years anti-vaccine activists have been successful in many states in expanding the rules for exemption. In California, for example, parents may seek excemption if they have “philosophical” objections to vaccines – which means there really isn’t any criteria beyond the parent’s wishes. The anti-vaccine movement has been active not only in pushing for the weakening of vaccine requirements but also in teaching parents how to use the laws to evade vaccination for their children.

The LA Times found that, while state wide the exemption rate was only 2%, exemptions were largely clustered in certain schools. They report:

In all, more than 10,000 kindergartners started school last fall with vaccine exemptions, up from about 8,300 the previous school year. In 1997, when enrollment was higher, the number of exempted kindergartners was 4,318.


At Ocean Charter School in Del Rey, near Marina del Rey, 40% of kindergartners entering school last fall and 58% entering the previous year were exempted from vaccines, the highest rates in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Herd Immunity

These numbers are concerning because they threaten herd immunity – when about 90% of the population is vaccinated then there are not enough vulnerable hosts to spread an infection efficiently, so outbreaks are uncommon. When vaccination rates drop significantly below 90% then herd immunity is lost and infectious diseases can spread, resulting in outbreaks.

This is not mere theory – it happens. In the UK fears that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism (even after the original research by Andrew Wakefield was exposed as wrong, subject to undisclosed conflicts of interest, and maybe even fraudulent, and later evidence confidently showed no link between MMR and autism), led to a precipitous drop in the rates of MMR compliance. The UK does not mandate vaccine for entry into public schools, so they lacked the buffer (for what it’s worth) that exists in the US. As a result there was, and continues to be, a resurgence of previously controlled diseases, like measles.

The later scare that the mercury-based preservative thimerosal could be linked to autism has had a similar effect, and such fears rapidly spread to the US.  This link too has been shown to be false, and in any case thimerosal was removed from the childhood vaccine schedule by 2002, but the this has not stopped the anti-vaccine movement from spreading unwarranted fear.


More German children need measles jabs: WHO study

Posted in News by Skepdude on February 2, 2009

GENEVA (Reuters) – More children in Germany must be vaccinated against measles to prevent another widespread outbreak, a World Health Organization (WHO) study published on Monday said.

More than 12,000 people were infected with measles three years ago in Germany, Romania, Britain, Switzerland and Italy in an unusual epidemic caused by relatively low immunization rates against the contagious viral disease.

“The 2006 measles outbreak … must be regarded as a wake-up call,” experts from Berlin’s Robert Koch Institute and two German public health centers said in the latest WHO Bulletin, in a study that focused only on Germany.

They said vaccination coverage rates remain dangerously low, putting children at continuing risk of the viral disease that killed 197,000 people in 2007.

“Immediate nationwide school-based catch-up vaccination campaigns targeting older age groups are needed to close critical immunity gaps,” the researchers said, noting German children aged 10 to 14 were most affected in the 2006 outbreak.


Measles Outbreak – Thanks, Jenny

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on August 22, 2008

The CDC yesterday updated their report on recent cases of measles. In 2000, thanks to the aggressive vaccination program, measles was declared eradicated from the US. There continued to be on average 63 cases per year from 2001-2007 due to imported cases from outside the US. To ironically quote Jim Carrey from the aptly titled, A Series of Unfortunate Events – “Then the unthinkable happened.”

The anti-vaccination movement was given a boost by actress Jenny McCarthy, who was convinced that vaccines were responsible for her son’s apparent autism. She was later joined in her crusade by her boyfriend, Jim Carrey. The movement had already been gaining some traction over false fears that thimerosal in vaccines (although mostly removed by 2002) was linked to autism. Such fears had already caused a drop in vaccination rates in the UK with subsequent measles outbreaks. Now these irrational fears were coming to the US, helped along by scientifically-illiterate pretty-people.