Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Tag Archives: vaccine

Anti-Vaccine Misinformation about the Seasonal Influenza Vaccine

Related: Mike Adams and The Deadly Doctor Gambit, Mainstream Climate Science Defeats Global Crank Mike Adams.

Natural News spreads misinformation about seasonal influenza vaccine

Natural News is perhaps the largest website devoted to the promotion of quack treatments for almost any medical condition and anti-scientific falsehoods. They spread a massive amount of misinformation on a wide range of topics such as climate change, genetically modified foods, water fluoridation, vaccines and advocate conspiracy theories about contrails, aspartame, antidepressants and even about the 2012 Aurora shooting. Its founder, Mike Adams, have been discussed on this website before when he attempted to dismiss the harmful consequences of global warming by parroting the same tired old denialist falsehoods about the fertilization effect and coral bleaching. He also attempts to argue that doctors are more dangerous than guns (a pseudoscientific argument called the deadly doctor gambit), apparently without taking into account the enormous benefit that modern medicine brings.

Recently, the Natural News website published a post written by Ethan A. Hoff that is spreading pseudoscientific misinformation about the seasonal influenza vaccine. He falsely claim that the efficacy of the inactivated seasonal influenza vaccine is just 1.5%, when in reality, it is close to 60%. He denies that over 200 000 people become hospitalized from influenza-related complications and blames that on the vaccine instead. He also fearmongers about the side-effects when they are most often fairy mild. Finally, there is no consistent evidence that vitamin D, garlic or any of the other “natural health” products that Hoff promotes can prevent influenza infection. Read more of this post

Mailbag: Anti-Vaccine Myths, Pharma Shill Gambit and Vaccine Court

Challenge Accepted

Recently, an anti-vaccine activist by the name of “peter” posted a comment on my article Irrefutable Evidence Shows That Anti-Vaccine Activists Still Have No Clue (were I destroyed some anti-vaccine propaganda written by Dave Mihalovic). It did not address any arguments and attacked me directly, yet I think it can still be useful to unravel and debunk his claims about scientific skeptics, vaccines and the U.S. legal system. This exercise also highlights some of the common rhetorical devices that anti-vaccine activists make use of in their efforts to undermine modern medicine.

The basics flaws in his approach are (1) the use of the “pharma shill” gambit, (2) the gross ignorance about the Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (also known as “vaccine court”) and the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) and (3) the deployment of anti-vaccine crankery about the alleged negative health effects of vaccines.

As we shall see, the pharma shill gambit is just a vacuous rationalization to psychologically shield anti-vaccine beliefs, vaccine court / VICP are more beneficial to individuals who have suffered a genuine adverse effect of vaccines (faster, cheaper and requires a much lighter burden of evidence to be met) and the peer-review literature as well as scientific reports by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and others show that vaccines are not linked to the conditions he claims.

Here is what Peter has to say about me and vaccines: Read more of this post

The Insanity that is Swedish Anti-Vaccine Crankery

Sweden has largely been spared of the creeping vaccine rejectionist propaganda that has plagued the United States and Great Brittan for decades. However, the anti-vaccine forces are stirring under the surface and have acquired a larger internet presence than ever before, especially after the vaccination program against the pandemic H1N1/09 virus. The growing movement is centered around conspiracy-mongering websites like vaken.se that has bought into almost every conspiracy theory imaginable about 9/11, water fluoridation, vaccines, global warming and genetically modified foods. Another important hub of the Swedish anti-vaccine movement is Annika Dahlqvist, who is a medical doctor promoting diet as protection against infectious diseases. For her pseudoscientific claims, she was awarded denialist of the year (“Årets förvillare”) by a Swedish skeptic society (called “Föreningen för vetenskap och folkbildning”) in 2009. A third central figure is blogger Linda Karlström (an economist), who has recently started a new anti-vaccine group blog under the domain vaccin.me. She has teamed up with others and they spend most of their time shamelessly parroting the anti-vaccine falsehoods put forward people like Mike Adams, Lawrence B. Palevsky and Jackie Swartz, a anthroposophist doctor at a Swedish CAM clinic called Vidarekliniken. Karlström’s group is collecting anecdotal stories from anti-vaccine parents who believe their children have gotten hurt by vaccines. According to their website, they intend to gather 1000 reports before they attempt at class-action lawsuit.

Luckily, they do not have free reign. Responsible science journalists, scientists, public health professionals as well as the skeptic society of Sweden are combating their falsehoods, both online and offline.

Let us take a detailed look at what passes for evidential arguments at Karlström’s blog. The blog post that I am refuting is written in Swedish, but I will translate the claims being made to the best of my ability. Feel free to use online translation services to check the translation. The user Marina Ahlm (a nurse currently trying to become a “medicinal foot therapist” according to the website bio) posted an entry absurdly entitled Herd immunity cannot be achieved through vaccination: even vaccinated people carry viruses and bacteria that can be found here. As we shall see, it is filled by distortions, scientific falsehoods, half-truths and plain old nonsense.

Measles vaccination has been a scientific success!

—> According to the WHO (2011), the measles mortality has been reduced by as much as 78% between 2000 and 2008 mostly due to the benefits of large-scale immunization program. In the vast majority of regions, this figure is at 90% (between 2000 and 2010).

—> After the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, the incidence of measles fell dramatically, from almost 500000 cases per year to almost none in comparison. Even though small and sporadic peaks and valleys due to natural fluctuations, the huge reduction is real (CDC, 2011). To be sure, the fact that B follows A does not mean that A causes B, but when you have a strong correlation plus a mechanism that is supported by many different lines of evidence, the reasonable position is to tentatively accept the efficacy of the measles vaccine.

—> Ahlm makes the flawed argument that since, apparently, it is practically difficult to evaluate the efficacy of a second dose of measles vaccine, this means that the measles vaccine has been a failure and that WHO only offers excuses. However, practical problems evaluating the efficacy of a second dose of measles vaccines compared to getting one cannot undermine the enormous mountain for the efficacy of the measles vaccine. As far as we know, a single dose may potentially offer the bulk of the protection.

—> In fact, the WHO does not offer excuses, but points out the real reasons why we have seen some resurgence of measles in certain areas of the world: vaccine efforts are sometimes not sustained partly because of the actions of vaccine rejectionists (like Ahlm): “However, global immunization experts warn of a resurgence in measles deaths if vaccination efforts are not sustained. Experts fear the combined effect of decreased political and financial commitment could result in an estimated 1.7 million measles-related deaths between 2010-13, with more than half a million deaths in 2013 alone” (WHO, 2011a). Read more of this post

Why Are Boys Getting a Vaccine Against Cervical Cancer!?

“Why are we giving a vaccine against cervical cancer to young boys who don’t even have an uterus?!”

A lot of anti-vaccine activists ask this question, apparently not having done their homework. Then again, denialists have a tendency to not really understand the scientific basis of what they are rejecting, so this level of ignorance is sadly not unusual. Here are the three main reasons why boys are getting vaccinated against HPV.

Reason 1: It protects males from other forms of cancer cause by HPV.

HPV does not only cause cervical cancer, but some strains can cause other forms of cancer, such as neck and head cancer. By vaccinating boys against HPV, they are less likely to get these forms of cancers.

Reason 2: It protects males from getting genital and anal warts.

Some strains of HPV can also cause painful and ugly warts in the genital or anal area. This is not deadly, but costly and has a psychological toll for the patient. Getting vaccinated with an HPV vaccine that contains proteins from the strains that cause these warts, boys will also be protected.

Reason 3: It reduces the spread of HPV to females.

Males can spread HPV to females during intercourse. So if more guys have been vaccinated against HPV, fewer guys will spread HPV to females and fewer females will become infected and risk developing cervical cancer and anal and genital warts.

References and Further Reading

Hall, H. (2011). HPV Vaccine for Boys. Science-Based Medicine. Accessed: 2012-01-04.

Harris, G. (2011). Panel Endorses HPV Vaccine for Boys of 11. The New York Times. Accessed: 2012-01-04.

Offit, P. A. & Moser, C. A., (2011). Vaccines and Your Child: Separating Fact from Fiction. New York. Colombia University Press.

Three Great Ironies of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Let us not forget that the vast majority of the claims put forward by the anti-vaccine movement have gone down in flames, but there are a couple of interesting ironies in the situation that is worth taking a closer look at.

Irony #1: Claiming that MMR vaccine causes autism, when it actually can prevent certain cases of autism

One of the most common claims from the anti-vaccine cranks are that vaccines, often specifically the trivalent vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella, causes autism. This claim has been contradicted by a dozen or so large-scale epidemiological studies and detailed reviews of the literature, but the problem goes even deeper than that. A pregnant female infected with rubella can give birth to a child that has the condition known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), with includes deafness, abnormal eyes, congenital heart diseases and, surprisingly, developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder (Offit and Moser, 2011). Getting vaccinated with the MMR vaccine strongly reduces the risk for women who later get pregnant to get infected with rubella and therefore prevents the child from getting the congenital rubella syndrome (which is a risk factor for developing autism spectrum disorder). Read more of this post

The Anti-Vaccine Battleship is Still Sinking

The Institute of Medicine, an independent organization under National Academy of Sciences designed to provide advice on issues of health, recently published yet another report on vaccine safety a few days ago. Earlier reports, focusing on the supposed association between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism, thimerosal and autism, the hepatitis B vaccine and demyelinating disorders like multiple sclerosis. The reports reviewing the research on these issues found that the postulated associations where not supported by the evidence or that the evidence favors a rejection of a causal relationship.

This, of course, did not even put a dent in the conspiracy theories about large pharmaceutical companies and vaccines. The funny thing about conspiracy theories is as more and more evidence piles up against it, the proponents usually claim, in a puff of cognitive dissonance, that the researchers are part of the conspiracy, bought by the pharmaceutical companies. Never mind the fact that the reviewers where independent and has never been involved in vaccine safety or anything like that before. Soon, the supposed conspiracy grows to such an absurd size that it would not have been manageable without leaks.

This new report, entitled Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality, is a result of a detailed review of the scientific literature spanning over 1000 articles and, while finding evidence of extremely rare adverse events like seizures and inflammation of the brain, they did not find any evidence for associations such as autism and type-I diabetes. The report brief concluded that Read more of this post

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