So much anti-vaccine crankery, so little time

It's amazing that anti-vaccine crankery persists. I went over to Joe Mercola's woo-palace again, and what should pop up but an article by Dr. Woo himself, Russell Blaylock. Apparently Russ and Joe are "good friends", which is appropriate, since both are doctors that aren't welcome in the profession. Blaylock believes that vaccines kill your brain. How does he know?

"A tremendous amount of research has now demonstrated the link between chronic low-level brain inflammation, elevated brain glutamate levels and major depression"


"A great number of studies have shown that when you vaccinate an animal, the body's inflammatory cytokines not only increase dramatically, but so do the brain's inflammatory chemicals."

OK. This is a load of bubkes. You can read the article if you're bored, but let me at least parse out his citations for you. To summarize, his hypothesis is that vaccines somehow make the nervous system all cranky, and local glutamate toxicity in the brain is induced, leading to neuropsychiatric problems. Here's a few of his supposedly supporting citations:

1) McGeer PL and McGeer EG. Local neuroinflammation and progression of Alzheimer's disease. J Neurovirology 202; 8: 529-538. This is an article about the role of the innate immune system in brain inflammation from autopsy specimens. The innate immune system is not the arm that is specifically activated by vaccines.

2)Tavares RG, et al. Quinolinic acid stimulates synaptosomal glutamate release and inhibits glutamate uptake into astrocytes. Neurochem Int 2002; 40: 621-627. Interesting basic science about glutamate metabolism. Irrelevant.

11) Anderson T et al. NMDA-receptor antagonist prevents measles virus-induced neurodegeneration. Eur J Neurosci 1991; 3: 66-71. Irrelevant

13) Renault PF, et al. Psychiatric complications of long-term ineterferon-alpha therapy. Arch Internal Medicine 1987; 147: 1577-1580. Irrelevant

Basically, none of his citations support his hypothesis in any way. It's an interesting hypothesis. It just isn't supported by his data.

If this is the best "evidence" the uber-cranks can come up with, it's no wonder they aren't getting lots of grants and tenured academic positions.

So what are some other strategies employed by the anti-vax cults? How about fear? Lies?

You may have heard of the James Randi Prize which offers a cool million to anyone who can offer verifiable proof of the paranormal (still up for grabs, folks!). Well, our friend Joseph Mercola writes about another prize, this one based on a perfect straw man argument. This one offers a $75,000 prize to drink a shot glass of "vaccine additives". It helps illustrate the shamelessness of the anti-vaccine nuts, and reminds me that the stupid, it really does burn (props to Orac)...

The additives would be the same as those contained in the vaccines recommended for a 6-year-old according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, and the dose would be body-weight calibrated. It would include, but not be limited to:
  • Thimerosal (a mercury derivative)
  • Ethylene glycol (antifreeze)
  • Phenol (a disinfectant dye)
  • Aluminum
  • Benzethonium chloride (a disinfectant)
  • Formaldehyde (a preservative and disinfectant)

Well, well, well. This is a creative take on the old canard. The official press release does not give the exact composition of the solution. It does forget to mention that these substances, if present at all, are not ingested by mouth, and are present in vanishingly small concentrations.

There is a much simpler and more valid way to test doctors' "faith" in the safety of vaccines---ask them to vaccinate themselves. That way, the "subject" has the same exposure as all those poor little children, rather than some arbitrary shot glass full of goo.

I got my tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis last week, and my flu shot last month. I want my damn prize money!

But I'm destined to earn my money through hard work. When I first posted a piece on this challenge, I got some, er, interesting comments. One deserved the kind of special attention only a sleep-deprived internist can give it.

According to the commenter:

Ironically, most health care professionals DON'T take the flu shots and nursing and healthcare professionals ROUTINELY COMPLAIN when FORCED to take them...

I asked what data he had to back up these assertions.

Only newspaper articles and anecdotal information from associates in the medical professions. I would challenge you to prove that they do vaccinate given the age demographics of medical professionals and coverage for those ages in the CDC records.

Unable to come up with data, he then asked:

Do YOU truly believe that the percent of the medical professional population that does vaccinate for influenza will be statistically different and higher then the general population's percent for influenza? That would be the "true" show of faith, wouldn't it?

I called up my hospital's head of epidemiology. This is the busiest hospital in the nation. By early in the flu season, 55-60% of personnel with patient contact have been vaccinated at employee health alone. This doesn't count people vaccinated at their doctor's office. There is no job requirement that this be done, just a recommendation.

[I]t is...anecdotal and unscientific.

Cherry picked unaudited, un-reviewed data. If your hospital is FORCING the influenza vaccine, then I sincerely hope that 50% of your staff is terminated by the end of the business day based on your anecdotal data.

The only thing disproved is your credibility and objectivity.

Anti-vaxers don't care about facts. They care about ideology, or in some cases delusion. It is truly "a foolish consistency."

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Of course, if medical folk do vaccinate their children, that just shows what greedy monsters they are, compromising their kids' health, ooohhhh! the poooor kids!, just to further their evil cause!

It's also a dubious assertion that ethylene glycol is even in any vaccines. At least, I haven't been able to find any evidence that it is, as I described here when I deconstructed the whole "toxins" idiocy that antivaccinationists like to trot out. But, gee, "antifreeze" in vaccines sure does sound scary, doesn't it?

Actually neuroinflammation can be a problem, but the solution is not to try and avoid everything that might trigger inflammation (that would be impossible and in any case vaccines are completely unimportant over the long term). Inflammation is an acute immune response. A very necessary and adaptive acute immune response. Dysfunction due to inflammation is due to chronic inflammation.

The "solution" to chronic inflammation is not in the (useless) attempt to try and prevent each instance of inflammation in the (useless) hope that then none of them would become chronic. Inflammation is a normal part of the healing process (and many other processes too). It increases the rate of healing by increasing local blood supply. Suppress inflammation and many normal physiological processes become perturbed.

The key to reducing chronic inflammation is in improving the normal regulation of inflammation. The major transcription factor involved in inflammation is NFkB, sometimes called the "master switch of inflammation". A major factor in reducing the activity of NFkB is nitric oxide. NO inhibits NFkB, and is one of the major factors controlling it. During inflammation, NO is lowered by the generation of superoxide. The lowering of NO causes positive feedback which leads to a robust "turn-on" of inflammation. Turning inflammation off then requires increasing NO levels.

I discuss the involvement of NO in neuroinflammation in great detail in my blog which discusses the recent paper on resolution of autism symptoms with fever. I see that as being due to increased NO during the acute phase of the fever, NO produced by iNOS expressed as a result of NFkB.…

Neuroinflammation is implicated in many neurological disorders. There was a treatment that was quite effective, and was the "standard of care" 75 years ago. It did have substantial side effects and risks. The treatment was called fever therapy, and consisted of giving the patient malaria, allowing them to go through about 10 cycles of fever and then curing the malaria with quinine. This was the "standard of care" for neurosyphilis for a couple of decades before penicillin became available. It was a desperate treatment for a disease that was 100% fatal. It did work, with people recovering their health and being able to resume their lives. The fatality rate was only a few tens of percent.

[I]t is...anecdotal and unscientific.

Ahh. so they do know what this means. Now it's jsut a matter of getting them to realise it applies to them too.

By Brendan S (not verified) on 28 Mar 2008 #permalink

It makes me angry when I hear on TV or from politicians that vaccines are somehow controversial. Scaring parents into risking their kids' lives, and the lives of others to whom disease might spread if vaccines fall out of use, is an unethical way to attract viewers or voters.

There needs to be a grassroots pro-vaccine movement. There has probably never been a more successful technology ever invented in the history of medical science. How many millions, even billions, of lives have been saved as a result of vaccines? I'm sure it's rough when your kid has autism and you want to blame someone, or something, but why choose something as beneficial to humanity as vaccines - especially without any evidence whatsoever? It's not only illogical, it's dangerous.