Antivax smackdown, Albietz edition

By Phil Plait | August 26, 2009 10:26 am

I’ve written about my friend Dr. Joe Albietz before: he’s a pediatrician who saves lives for a living. He’s also a skeptic and a really good one; he was the brains and brawn behind the very successful vaccine drive we held at TAM 7 that will help prevent 500 kids in Las Vegas from contracting dangerous diseases.

Joe now writes at Science Based Medicine, and for his first article he tears to tiny little shreds a claim that the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine is dangerous, a very wrong statement being spread by Dr. Joseph Mercola, an alt-med promoter who sells "natural" remedies as an alternative to vaccinations. With all this antivax nonsense going around, I wonder how sales are doing for him?

Anyway, Joe’s article is lengthy, and worth every word of it. He takes Mercola’s claims and shows just where he’s wrong. In some cases, Mercola’s errors are so flagrant it makes me honestly wonder how anyone could make them. Mercola’s article is, apparently, just another in a long line of fact-optional antivax claims, and yet will still gain traction with those who don’t understand what medical science has done for them and continues to do. As Joe said in the article (emphasis mine):

I’ll take the opportunity to point out that pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and hospitals stand to make a lot more money from an uncontrolled pandemic than from its prevention. The money spent on antivirals, antibiotics, sedation and pain medications, physician and hospital billing for the 200,000 people hospitalized in the US during a normal flu season would compensate them far better than profits from vaccine sales. It’s almost as though, against our financial interest, all of our efforts are designed to keep people from getting sick…

Imagine that! People trying to cure the sick, instead of bilking them for money. That sounds more like the doctors I know.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Skepticism

Comments (45)

  1. I read that article a few days ago. Dr. Albietz’s writing is very easy to read, and he does a great job at showing where Dr. Mercola is wrong.

    And that quote you pulled out is a point I’ve made before, myself. If I had the time and resources available, I had thought about actually calculating the money a company makes from vaccines and showing it next to the money made from treating the disease itself.

    Alas, I don’t have the knowledge or connections to undertake such research. Instead, I’ll just point people to antiantivax.flurf.net, Respectful Insolence, Science-Based Medicine, CDC, FDA and so on.

  2. “Imagine that! People trying to cure the sick, instead of bilking them for money. That sounds more like the doctors I know.”

    On the other hand, people selling useless ‘cures’ while doing their best to discredit anything that might really help reduce the number of customers — I mean patients — who does that fit…?

    @skrivener

  3. Yesterday on twitter one of my non-skeptical followers linked to Mercola’s article saying he wouldn’t get the flu vaccine. I remembered Joe’s post right away and sent it to him. Very happy to report that he read it and changed his mind.

  4. Gus Snarp

    I can’t supply a reference now, but I remember a news story a while back about how difficult it was to maintain vaccine supplies because drug companies just don’t make enough money on vaccines to be worth producing them.

  5. I went to high school with Dr. Albietz. I remember Joe as someone who was freakishly intelligent, totally personable, and genuinely kind. Probably not the same portrait the anti-vax woo crowd would paint of someone who would stand up against their claims.

  6. 4. Gus Snarp Says:
    August 26th, 2009 at 11:04 am

    I can’t supply a reference now, but I remember a news story a while back about how difficult it was to maintain vaccine supplies because drug companies just don’t make enough money on vaccines to be worth producing them.
    _____________

    I’ve read that too. It makes sense – they take a long time to produce and don’t have the marketability of, say, a new boner pill. It’s especially problematic for neglected diseases such as leishmaniasis, hookworm, and schistosomiasis, which affect large numbers of people in developing countries who are unable to pay designer-drug prices for vaccines.

  7. Charles

    Grrr…. Mercola… My wife used to go to him back as a teenager. Utter quack. Thanks to his tender ministrations, she had a case of strep throat that lasted upwards of six months. Guy refused to take her tonsils out. Now, at 32, she finally had that done.

  8. Damon

    “I’ll take the opportunity to point out that pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and hospitals stand to make a lot more money from an uncontrolled pandemic than from its prevention….”

    “…It’s almost as though, against our financial interest, all of our efforts are designed to keep people from getting sick…”

    Huh?

  9. @Damon

    A lot of antivaxers say that the reason studies showing that vaccines are (in general) safe and effective, and that they do not cause autism, cannot be trusted is because doctors and pharmaceutical companies make loads of money off of vaccines. Ergo, those studies are biased, in their eyes. What Dr. Albietz is saying, though, is that doctors, pharma companies, etc., would, in reality, make more money from treating the diseases than they would from the vaccines to prevent the diseases.

    So, if the antivax stance is correct (that pharma companies, et al., are only in it for the money, rather than to help people), then by promoting vaccines, they would clearly be acting contrary to their best interests.

  10. By the way Todd, have you done any updates to your most excellent page? I need to keep up with you on the Facts, not Fantasy page.

    http://factsnotfantasy.com/vaccines.html

  11. Jardmonkey

    I was dismayed the other day when I picked my son up from his first day of school, and was confronted by an organized group of people handing out anti-vax propaganda to parents on the school grounds. I asked them what it was about and they said information on vaccinations. I asked them if it was for or against, and they would not answer but simply stated it was information I may not know. Needless to say I took their literature and brought it to the school nurse, who was not very pleased. She told me she would look into them trespassing etc. This was Austin TX.

  12. @Larian

    A little. Take a look at it (on flurf, not jottit). Probably best to just copy/paste so as not to miss stuff.

  13. Quiet Desperation

    he’s a pediatrician who saves lives for a living

    Wait… what exactly are you implying here? Saving lives how? Is he a mask? Are we talking costume here? Pediatrician? Is his secret hideout built from Duplo blocks? :-) I’m sorry. I’m working 60 hour weeks. Not even sure where I am right now.

  14. Ray

    @toasterhead,

    “It makes sense – they take a long time to produce and don’t have the marketability of, say, a new boner pill.”

    I’m seeing a new and scathingly brilliant marketing plan.

    Package vaccines in the boner pills. It will make a mint.

  15. Juanjo

    I’m from Spain and all that nonsense is arriving here. I’m sorry to tell that a friend sent me a link to YouTube where a guy I didn’t know was “explaining” the reasons why nobody should vaccinate against the swine flu.

    That guy is David Icke.I promise that I’ve never heard about this crazy man before, but I think it’s very funny seeing him, until you realize that his words can mean death for the people who believe what he is saying. It’s very sad that so many years the life took to evolve to human beings who use their brains so badly.

    I hope that education can someday make impossible for people like him to find an audience.

    P.S. I apologize for my bad English.

  16. amphiox

    Yeah, vaccines are just about the least profitable type of medication out there. I mean, what kind of business model peddles a product that each customer will need to use only a few times, sometimes even just once, in their entire lives? Where is the growth potential there?

  17. RustyShackleford
  18. @Todd W.

    Ugh, Flurf is what gave me all sorts of headaches the day I tried to set up Facts, not Fantasy! :( I’ll do it the old fashioned way then as opposed to a copy/paste. I like the table of contents thing.

    You may want to include some of the things that I have added in to your list as well (formaldahyde from bannanas, aluminium from breast milk, etc.).

  19. Rob P.

    The lack of profit in producing vaccines is part of the reason for the existence of the specialized vaccine court (National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program). If pharmaceutical companies were subject to lawsuits for liability, they wouldn’t be in the business of making vaccines because there’s not enough of a profit margin. Note that for other medications, Pharma generally takes its lumps in court and continues profitably.

  20. Rob P.

    Also, the link appears to be farked. Make that appeared, now it’s back in business.

  21. Scott

    This is a great article that sates my concerns about the H1N1 vaccine. Mercola likely was just trying to sell his product. However, being skeptical of something that can potentially be being rushed is not a bad thing. As a fellow skeptic, you should understand this.

  22. @Larian

    Ugh, Flurf is what gave me all sorts of headaches

    You mean Drupal (on which Eric TF Bat’s site, flurf.net, is built).

    You may want to include some of the things that I have added in to your list as well (formaldahyde from bannanas, aluminium from breast milk, etc.).

    The main reason I haven’t included those is because the route of administration is very different (oral vs. injected), which is one of my criticisms of some of the studies that anti-vaxers reference to show effects from mercury and/or aluminum. So, while those facts are true, it doesn’t really bolster my arguments and gives anti-vaxers an opening to criticize me when I point out flaws in the studies they cite.

  23. @Scott

    This is a great article that sates my concerns about the H1N1 vaccine. Mercola likely was just trying to sell his product. However, being skeptical of something that can potentially be being rushed is not a bad thing. As a fellow skeptic, you should understand this.

    Dr. Albietz’s piece is a great resource. Now, if only the media were to come upon it and stop citing the 1976 flu event. The anti-vaxers love to compare the current pandemic and vaccine production with the ’76 flu scare.

  24. @Jardmonkey

    I was dismayed the other day when I picked my son up from his first day of school, and was confronted by an organized group of people handing out anti-vax propaganda to parents on the school grounds.

    Perhaps you counter them by handing out materials that directed parents to the Science-Based Medicine blog’s Topic-Based Reference page on vaccines. I’d be honored if my site were included, too. :D

  25. IVAN3MAN

    Juanjo:

    That guy is David Icke. I promise that I’ve never heard about this crazy man before…

    Everybody in Britain (and most people in Canada) know who David Icke is, and that he is a total basketcase! In 1999, he published his book, The Biggest Secret, in which he wrote that the Illuminati are a race of reptilian humanoids known as the Babylonian Brotherhood, and that many prominent figures are reptilian — he just ripped off the plot of the 80s mini-series “V”! — including George W. Bush (primate, not lizard), Queen Elizabeth II, Kris Kristofferson, and Boxcar Willie — sounds like something that you get if you don’t get vaccinated!

  26. Matt

    I don’t disagree with the sentiment that our health system is not somehow designed to simply make money for the pharma companies, but it isn’t accurate to say “It’s almost as though, against our financial interest, all of our efforts are designed to keep people from getting sick…”

    It’s not as though the entire pharma industry is one big conglomerate operating for mutual benefit. The capitalist profit motive is at play here. It’s not to the benefit of the company who makes Tamiflu to also sell a flu vaccine, which is why they don’t…different companies make the vaccines.

    The companies that make the vaccines are not the same as the companies that make the drugs to treat the diseases vaccinated against.

    There is still truth in the statement, though, because if a huge pharma company like Phizer or Merck really wanted to they could buy up the companies that make the vaccines and pull them off the market.

    This is the beauty of the free market. Even though a drug company would rather find a treatment than a cure because they’ll make more money that way, there’s always some other company more than willing to find a cheaper treatment or cure to earn a share of that money. This is one instance where our greed actually makes us healthier.

  27. Gus Snarp

    Look, I can accept a lot of conspiracy fantasy wackiness with ambivalence, but Kris Kristofferson a reptilian alien? One of the greatest American songwriters? Me and Bobby McGee? If You Don’t Like Hank Williams? The Law is for Protection of the People? All written by an alien? Now I’m mad. David Icke must be stopped from spreading these lies.

  28. Jardmonkey

    @ Todd W.

    unfortunately I was rushed and did not want to debate woo with opra fans- but I have shared your link with family members who are unfortunately opra and mccarthy fans. oof.

  29. If you’re in too good a mood, go to Dr. Mercola’s article (linked in Joe’s article) and read the comments. Ugh :(

  30. MadScientist

    Anyone remember all those decades ago when people were trying to convince the government that “prevention is cheaper than treatment”? There was this notion that the government should fork out $$$ to buy huge quantities of vaccines cheaply and that this would actually save money. So Dr. Albeitz’ statement has me wondering if he remembers that this was an absolutely deliberate decision and an expected outcome rather than some accidental consequence of widespread vaccination?

    In other developments in that era, people like Jonas Salk essentially put their research results into the public domain so that anyone could produce some types of vaccine (and market competition should keep prices low while availability remains pretty high).

  31. Cairnos

    Juanjo:

    I have to point out that IVAN3MAN is misrepresenting David Icke. He does not say that George Bush, the Queen, etc are reptilian humanoids.

    He says that they are blooddrinking shapechanging reptilian humanoid/human hybrids who serve, either willingly or because of mind control, thier masters, who are the full blooded reptilian humanoids who live in a vast system of caverns that span most of the world. Apparently they’re from space but have been hanging around in these caves for, like, thousands of years and they want to kinda kill most of us off, even though they haven’t succeeded in all that time that they’ve been the total masters of human society, which rather makes me wonder what they’ve been doing with thier time…perhaps thier plan starts “Step 1: Wait…and I don’t mean that wimpy human kind of waiting where they think a year is a long time, I mean serious full up lizard waiting. Were going to show those monkey boys what a real wait is like…when we finally pop up thier going to be all “Hey, what were you guys doing down there” and well be totally “Waiting”, and then they’ll be like “Man that’s a really long wait” and we’ll just look at them and say “Yes”.”

  32. ND

    Sounds like David Icke is confusing reality with Dr Who episodes.

  33. ND

    Awesome subtitle,

    “Children of the Matrix. How an Interdimensional Race has Controlled the World for Thousands of Years-and Still Does”

    Funny “… and still does” :)

  34. firemancarl

    Uh-oh. I guy I know posted this on his facebook page. The wooers are out in full force.
    http://www.prisonplanet.com/british-medical-journal-half-of-health-workers-reject-h1n1-vaccine.html

  35. Buzz Parsec

    LOL, Cairnos. That sounds really cool! I can’t wait…

  36. Cairnos

    @ Buzz Parsec

    Touche sir :-)

  37. I was wondering when I’d see this.

    Thanks for the link.

  38. @Cairnos,

    You’ve got to love a conspiracy theory where the conspirators are both all powerful enough to control the entire world and incompetent enough that random crackpots… uh, I mean truth seekers can learn the inner workings of their plans, write books about them and post them online for everyone to see with no repercussions whatsoever. You’d think a race of super-powerful, world-controlling lizards would want to see David Icke silenced to protect their plans instead of allowed to freely tell everyone what was going on in an attempt to ruin the lizards’ plans.

  39. Maria

    IVAN3MAN, Cairnos:

    I thought Queen Elizabeth was a Werewolf…..

    I read Mercola.com like I read The Onion………. for a good laugh…

  40. rosebud

    I’ve just sent my oldest daughter off to her Freshman year at college and reminded her that she needs to get herself an H1N1 vaccination as soon as it is offered there.

    As far as the idea that docs, etc., are just in it for the money though, it doesn’t help that the President is using that same line in pushing the Universal Health Bill.

  41. JJ

    It also doesn’t help that big pharma has Obama and Congress in the bag. I believe it was last week when the Democrats refused to allow an amendment to the health care bill that would allow the importing of cheaper drugs from Canada. Granted, it could be for other reasons than to prop up big pharma, but I can’t think of any other legitimate ones. There’s also much debate the surrounds big pharma, most notably the controversy over anti-depressants and how they don’t work. These are some of the biggest money makers for them and you see commercials for them all the time, yet why can’t we read the studies used by the FDA to approve the drug? I remain suspicious of the relationship between Congress and big pharma.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9988054

  42. JJ

    Just one instance of where big pharma is ripping us off.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091023163346.htm

    We also know the antibiotics are being overused here, which is causing new resistant bacteria, such as MERSA. It’s only a matter of time before drug resistant bacteria becomes more widespread, which is one purpose of alternative medicine and preventative care. I wouldn’t put such a hex on natural remedies, with the exception of obvious quackery like homeopathy.
    My grandfather taught me many natural remedies from his native Italy, such as using garlic or vinegar to treat some conditions, and it does work, without producing resistant bacteria over time. His family lived by them for years in the rural mountainous region of Calabria and they lived through their 80s without modern health care. Nutrition is also a key in preventative care, for which many naturalists advocate. However, that’s pretty much common sense, fruits and veggies, no processed foods.

  43. JJ

    Furthermore, Dr. Mercola is not a quacky witch doctor as so many label him. Don’t listen to such propaganda like the stuff you hear on these blogs. Go to his site and listen to him speak about his experience and why he does what he does. He’s been a real doctor for over 20 years, trained in both traditional and natural medicines. Therefore, he understands traditional medicine and has treated many patients successfully or he wouldn’t have such a following in the first place. Is it more plausible to think he’s fooled and currently fooling over 1 million people? It’s a conspiracy theory to think one person can fool so many people, he must be doing something right. He’s not even religious.

    Learn for yourself:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Mercola

    http://www.mercolaquack.com/

    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/07/11/Is-Your-Health-Freedom-Really-Free.aspx

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