Vaccination's night of the living dead

Some crazy, currently unbloggable crap is going down around Casa Pal this week, so I'm going to have to open up a bloggy doggy bag for you. I have a nice piece in the works for Sunday or Monday which is brand, spanking new. This was originally published on 5/6/2009. --PalMD

Some bad ideas refuse to die. Others die and then come back to eat your brains. Of course, zombies don't just rise from the grave for no reason. They need some sort of animating principle, like meteors, puffer fish toxin, a voodoo priestess, or all three.


Brain-eating, measles-promoting zombies. Not pictured: Andrew Wakefield

I'm sure Oprah can afford any or all of these, and she's certainly putting them to work. The latest reanimation from Oprah's Harpo Studios is Jenny McCarthy, Queen of the Undead, at least as far as the army of infectious disease promoters goes. You see, not only has Jenny been spreading lies about public health, her activities have breathed fresh life into infectious diseases that were "mostly dead". She even admits that increasing the incidence of dangerous infectious diseases is a likely consequence of her actions. Hell, she revels in it.

So Oprah, Queen of TV woo, with friends like Mehmet Oz and Christine Northrup, is helping to keep alive the Bad Idea that Wouldn't Die. Oprah is in a very powerful position, as we all know. If she brings out the Jenny, people will listen.

And when people listen to Jenny, children die. It's really that simple.

So thanks, Oprah. Thanks for raising a zombie army of people who would rather we sicken and die of infectious diseases because of their own baseless fears. Our brains will never be safe again.

More like this

Jenny is certainly not someone that I'd look to for medical information and I certainly wouldn't send my children out into the world without immunization.

The type of information she promotes does not develop in a vacuum. I guess having worked at a newspaper for so many years has my asking for more information.

How did this "theory" develop?

Have scientific studies ruled out the possibility of an immunization link or is it currently being studied?

I agree, people shouldn't listen to Jenny but the fact that they do indicates a disconnect between medical scientists and the general public. How can we get good information out there? Personally, I'd love to see a credible science superstar emerge, a medical version of Jane Goodall, spreading the latest knowledge and beating Jenny at her own game.

I don't think it's enough to slam Jenny and I don't think people are drinking the Kool-Aid because they're stupid. They afraid, as you have mentioned and although the fears are baseless they're going to turn to anyone who offers them an answer. Right now the medical profession is not doing a good job of getting the message out there.


Are you suggesting that the only way to deal with anti vaccine types is to shoot them in the head? Seems a little over the top to me, can't we just quarantine them somewhere like antarctica?

A name I hadn't heard of before showed up on Chris Mooneys' blog as a comment. An alleged physician named Dr. Brian Moench who heads up something called Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment posted an antivax comment. Sounds like a road company Jay Gordon. Is Dr. PalMD familiar with these clowns?

He was not...

I don't understand this post.

That is not an infrequent complaint around these parts.

Frankly, the tone of your approach convinces me to take a good look at Jenny's arguments. However, I'd like to focus on one idea you presented: "medical scientists." There is no such thing. Yes, there are opinionated doctors and researchers who toe the party line, write papers, and get grants. But if you look for a body of knowledge that is a coherent "medical science," you will look long and far. Instead, we have a climate somewhat similar to economics, where "each other's opinions" rule. Vaccines have wiped out many diseases, but could they have bad effects as well? Why not? Here is a question for the educated medical scientists among you: It is known that viruses prominently display host epitopes to confuse host immune surveillance. If vaccines mimic virus epitopes, how do vaccine makers avoid raising an immune response against self? I await your learned answer here.

By John Brookes (not verified) on 04 Apr 2010 #permalink

re John Brookes: "Here is a question for the educated medical scientists among you: It is known that viruses prominently display host epitopes to confuse host immune surveillance. If vaccines mimic virus epitopes, how do vaccine makers avoid raising an immune response against self? I await your learned answer here."

First, I don't recall that *viruses* display host peptides, though some bacteria or parasites definitely do. (Which is one reason we can often make excellent vaccines against viruses, but against other pathogens, not so much.)

But even if they did, the viruses used to make vaccines are grown in cell culture or eggs, not in humans, therefore wouldn't have human hosts to acquire peptides *from*.

And again, there is vaccine testing so that *if* a vaccine did cause inappropriate immune responses, it would probably get caught, improved or abandoned. Vaccines aren't perfect, just 90-99% so.

(As for the rest of the "science = opinions" screed... *sigh* Scientists have to back up their scientific claims with actual facts. Facts can be hard to find, they can be misinterpreted, but they still are actual facts about how the world works and not opinions.)

To reply to a few of Suzanne's. The current theory of the link between vaccinations and autism started as the rate of autism has sharply increased over the last few years (almost certainly due to better surveillance, changing definitions and incentives for schools to find the disease for additional funds. Vaccinations were proposed as a theoretical cause and two exclusive mechanisms emerged as possibilities. One was from England and revolved around a persistent intestinal inflammation that gave off as of yet unspecified toxins which somehow poisoned the brain. That study only had less than twelve individuals in it and was later found to be heavily funded by trial lawyers hooping to incriminate vaccines while the science refuted at multiple levels. The other was actually from our own CDC looking at mercury levels in existing vaccine schedules in comparison to recommended industrial levels ignoring the fact that the mercury was in a different form. At that point, all thimerisol was voluntarily pulled from pediatric vaccinations. Sadly, this may have been a mistake as the public saw this as a sign of guilt instead of a preventive measure.

Neither theory was backed by evidence and more than a decade has passed with thorough and active study. Since that time thimerisol has been removed completely from the pediatric vaccination schedule however autism rates remain unaffected. While thimerisol has been looked at and the form of mercury (ethyl mercury) has been found to be eliminated in the kidneys instead of accumulating as is seen with methyl mercury (a big component to what makes it dangerous). Additionally, more than a dozen studies from numerous countries have very specifically looked at more than ten-million children comparing neurological development and found no association with vaccination.

While vaccination causes have been ruled out, we maintain very strong active surveillance and have continually questioned vaccination safety. No one is suggesting that we stop the research. The original pertussis vaccination for example had complications in 1/100,000 individuals though considering that pertussis was killing 1/1,000 children doctors were okay with that. We no longer are. And the current pertussis vaccinations has been refined to the point where this no longer occurs. For a more recent example the first rota-virus vaccine was followed by a statistically significant rate of bowel complications. It was subsequently removed from the market though there is a consensus that this was most likely a fluke of statistics than anything specific. It still isn't going to come back. Numerous examples abound and vaccine safety is taken very seriously. Still and even considering that they are overwhelmingly safer than the alternative.

Dr Paul Offit did emerge as a very knowledgeable scientist and wrote a compelling and down to earth book about vaccination safety and the history of what has now become a witch hunt titled "Autisms False Prophets". Sadly, and because he was in the academic field of immunology and vaccinations he has at best been flat out ignored due to alleged conflicts of interest and at worst been illustrated as a cannibal who eats babies. Anyone close enough to the science is immediately censored from the discussion as being corrupt de facto. We don't call confused parents stupid or say that they drink kool-aid. Though those terms are aptly appropriate for the few that make a living off selling lies and fear-mongering.

The current stand of anti-vaccination rhetoric is that there are "too-many too soon". Conveniently, this statement is too ambiguous to be challenged or refuted. It claims that a new-born's immune system can only respond to a certain number of antigens or that the combined 'toxins' in vaccines add up to cause autism. Since no specific toxin has been proposed it is impossible to test and rule out or in. We are now often using squalene as an additive to vaccines. This is a natural metabolite produced by the liver and even then still gets extensive flak from the anti-vaccination community.

To respond to John's point about epitopes. Originally, vaccines were nothing more than ground up tissue that was subsequently injected. Since the rise of genetics we have been able to very carefully create the exact protein fragments that we prefer. Since most self-epitopes are eliminated in the thymus a self-epitope vaccine would be very ineffective. So we have very carefully selected epitopes that are unique to the pathogen most often the specific virulence factor itself as in pertussis. It would usually be what the host would respond to had the host "naturally" had the infection. This makes the vaccine the most effective at the smallest concentration and also lowers the chances for auto-reaction.

As a challenge for you, what about autism imply a broken or defective neurologic condition? The symptoms are nothing like what we historically saw with mercury exposure. These children are often brilliant at very specific tasks. The current and well established mechanism is that they are often too focused hyper vigilant neonates to the point where they actively ignore their parents. So much so, that they do not learn language which then causes a cascade of educational delays. Early language intervention often 'cures' these individuals who latter grow up to be slightly eccentric though highly functioning individuals. There is nothing about autism makes us think mercury poisoning, autoimmune, or some other 'toxic poisoning'.

@9, John Brookes

Frankly, the tone of your approach convinces me to take a good look at Jenny's arguments.

Having followed this manufactured controversy as a mere spectator for some time, I for one completely understand why Pal and his colleagues sometimes get exasperated and/or snarky. It must be incredibly tiring having to respond to the same old canards time after time.

"medical scientists." There is no such thing. Yes, there are opinionated doctors and researchers who toe the party line, write papers, and get grants.

First of all, how wonderfully condescending of you. Secondly, of course there's such a thing as medical scientists - any scientist whose area of study lies in the field of medicine. Thirdly, there's no such thing as a "party line" in science. Contrary to popular belief, the scientific community doesn't object to any dissent from a given prevailing theory, it merely objects to lazy dissent.

It's not enough to just cry, "You're all wrong!" One has to put in the time and effort and gather some evidence to support their dissent, and ideally put forth a new, plausible hypothesis. Armchair denialists, scientists opining outside their area of expertise, and generally anyone who doesn't even understand the theory they're decrying are rightly seen as having little to no credibility.

Bottom line - there is, in fact, a "body of knowledge that is...'medical science'". It may not be complete, perfect, or completely coherent, but it's always growing and improving.

By Lycanthrope (not verified) on 04 Apr 2010 #permalink

"Frankly, the tone of your approach convinces me to take a good look at Jenny's arguments. "

So, if I took a harsh tone against 5 shot Russian Roulette, you'd give it a shot? Less extreme, if I took a harsh tone against Holocaust deniers, you'll buy David Irving's books and attend his lectures?

Dumb ass.

The fact that people accept this nonsense without question just because a "doctor" or Oprah or (god help us) Jenny McCarthy says so on teh tee-vee REALLY worries me. The levels of stupid accepted by an allegedly "educated" nation worries me.

I'd suggest boycotting Oprah et al, but most of us who recognize the woo don't watch the show, so it wouldn't really do any good. Maybe an organized boycott of her sponsors?

By OleanderTea (not verified) on 05 Apr 2010 #permalink

MS3 makes several good points but there are two I that I think are off the mark:
1) implication that a CDC study supported the thimerisol-autism link


2) idea that relationship between the first (not the current) rotavirus vaccine used in the US and intussusception was 'a fluke of statistics'

I agree that the initial phase of the CDC study gave some (inappropriate) support to the idea but the conclusions of the completed study (which corrected a number of obvious errors in the initial phase) clearly do not support any such link to autism or to a slew of other developmental type problems.

The rotavirus vaccine-intussusception association was most certainly not a 'fluke'. The risk of intussusception in the week or so following rotavirus vaccine was greatly increased . The 'fluke' claim probably comes from population based studies (I only remember one such study in NY off the top of my head but there may have been others) which did not 'see' a significant increase in the overall rate of intussusception in the time period that the rotavirus vaccine was used. However, once one considered a) the small
actual absolute increase in risk conferred by the vaccine
(initial estimates of this were inflate) , b) the low percentage of children that received the vaccine , c) the short period of time the vaccine was in use and d) that at the this point in time there had been a long-term decline in the reported rate of intussusception : the inability of a
study to see an overall increase in intussusception actually was the expected outcome.

It is known that viruses prominently display host epitopes to confuse host immune surveillance. If vaccines mimic virus epitopes, how do vaccine makers avoid raising an immune response against self?

If viruses (or bacteria or parasites) mimic host proteins to avoid immune surveillance (and I don't know how often this happens: it's not my area), that is an argument for, not against, vaccination. Vaccinations don't necessarily use the whole pathogen (virus, bacteria, etc) to produce their effect. For example, the hep B vaccine raises an immune response against a small, but vital, part of the hepatitis B virsus. So unless the makers of the vaccine were careless or unlucky enough to chose an epitope which mimics some self-antigen to raise the immune response, the vaccine will not produce the same auto-immune effect as the infection might.

Thus, if a person is vaccinated against a pathogen which mimics human proteins, this allows the body to clear the pathogen quickly and prevents the formation of antibodies against the host-mimicing section of the pathogen. No infection, no auto-immune disease from the pathogen. A win all around.