Tag: vaccinations

Pertussis can kill, and you can help stop it

By Phil Plait | June 16, 2011 7:00 am

Pertussis, known commonly as whooping cough, is a highly contagious disease. It’s bad for anyone to get, but in infants it can result in death.

We have a vaccine that inoculates people against the bacterium. Yet, because not enough people get this vaccine, we’re seeing pertussis (and measles) outbreaks in many, many places. And who suffers? Babies too young to be vaccinated.

I want you to watch the following video. It’s a segment on the Australian 60 Minutes program, which deals with this issue plainly and truthfully. It’s an extremely difficult video to watch, as you’ll see (I had to turn my head several times, to be honest) but it’s also extremely important that everyone sees it.


Pay close attention to antivaxxer Viera Schiebner. Watch her demeanor, her manner, her attitude. This is a leader in their movement? To say her view of medicine, of reality, is skewed is to seriously understate the case. Barbara Holland Bronwyn Hancock, who works with Schiebner, justifies not getting vaccinated by making the outrageous statement that diseases can be beneficial.

I fail to see how exposing infants to potentially fatal infections is beneficial in any way.

Mia Freedman has written an excellent article about this. Apparently, only 11 8% of adults in South Australia, are vaccinated against pertussis [the 11% number is an average for all of Australia, my apologies for any confusion]. It’s tempting to blame the antivaxxers for this, but I wonder. I know a lot of my readers here are not antivax, but how many have had their Tdap booster?

I have. As much as I talk about this issue, I didn’t know I needed a booster shot for tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis until recently. As soon as I found out I went to my doctor and got the vaccination. Pertussis is spread by unvaccinated adults carrying the bacterium, so getting the booster shot will help lower the reservoir of hosts.

Getting the booster may not save your life, but it could very well save the life of an innocent infant too young to be otherwise protected. Go see your doctor, ask them about it, and if they recommend it, get the booster.

My thanks to Richard Saunders for the video, and to David McCaffery — who appears in the above video with his wife Toni — for the link to Ms. Freedman’s article. David’s daughter Dana would have been over two years old now if she hadn’t succumbed to pertussis at the age of just four weeks.

Related posts:

Pertussis and measles are coming back
The AVN falsehoods keep on a-comin’
More truth-based weapons against the antivaxxers
BREAKING: BMJ calls Andrew Wakefield a fraud

Some vax facts

By Phil Plait | January 11, 2011 2:30 pm

Just a quickie:

1) Today is the birthday of actress Amanda Peet, who is a pro-health hero of mine. Here’s why:

2) Jenny McCarthy is still spouting dangerous nonsense about vaccinations, autism, and health, this time on that notorious font of anti-reality, The Huffington Post. Orac takes her down as does Mike on his weekly Skeptical Rant.

3) I’m very pleased that the website Immunize for Good is now live! This site, put together by my good friends at the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, is one-stop shopping for reliable, accurate information about vaccinations. Why should you vaccinate your kids (and keep up your boosters)? What do parents say? What are the facts? Immunize for Good is the link that should be at the tip of your clipboard when anyone asks these questions. Got friends, family, acquaintances who are new parents. Send them to Immunize for Good. Please. Especially point out the Fact or Fiction section. Just doing that can save lives.

BREAKING: BMJ calls Andrew Wakefield a fraud

By Phil Plait | January 5, 2011 6:52 pm

This is HUGE: The BMJ, an online medical journal, has accused Andrew Wakefield — the hero of the modern antivaccination movement — of being "a fraud".

The skeptic and medical community have been hammering Wakefield for years; his study linking vaccines and autism was shaky from the start, and he suffered a series of humiliating defeats last year: the Lancet medical journal withdrew his paper, he was struck off the UK General Medical Council’s register, and was found to have acted unethically.

Of course, the word "fraud" implies intent; when writing about Wakefield I had my suspicions, but always wrote as if he were just wrong, and not deliberately lying to vulnerable parents.

But deliberate fraud is what he’s now accused of. Brian Deer, an investigative journalist, has written a multi-part series on the BMJ site which slams Wakefield. Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, also writes about this… and just to be clear, she uses the word "fraud" nine times in her editorial. Not surprisingly, it’s been picked up by several news outlets like CNN, MSNBC, and ABC.

Deer has been on Wakefield’s case a long time, and has been critical in exposing Wakefield’s shenanigans. Wakefield and the antivaxxers have attacked Deer many times, but their accusations are as hollow as the claims of links of autism to vaccinations. And let’s be clear: vaccines don’t cause autism.

Deer has long shown that Wakefield had a lot of financial incentive to create a fear of vaccines, including lawyers paying him to find a link to autism, as well as Wakefield developing his own version of a measles vaccine. From CNN:

According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers. Godlee said the study shows that of the 12 cases Wakefield examined in his paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR [measles-mumps-rubella] vaccine and three never had autism.

"It’s always hard to explain fraud and where it affects people to lie in science," Godlee said. "But it does seem a financial motive was underlying this, both in terms of payments by lawyers and through legal aid grants that he received but also through financial schemes that he hoped would benefit him through diagnostic and other tests for autism and MMR-related issues."

The original study has been shown by several investigations to have been terrible; as the quoted part above mentions several of the children never had autism, and many showed signs of it before they were vaccinated. Despite this, Wakefield became a hero to the antivax movement.

Brian Deer’s article on BMJ is nothing short of a tour-de-force, and is a horrifying tale of how Wakefield allegedly falsified medical research deliberately while operating under a huge conflict of interest. Deer’s article is meticulously referenced and footnoted… but still, I know this won’t stop the antivaxxers. The large movements aren’t based on good evidence, and no matter how much solid evidence you show them, they’ll reject it.

What I do hope is that parents out there will see this and pause. I am a parent, and I went through all the usual fears you get when you have a child. I can only imagine the suffering so many parents out there have undergone, and with tremendous heartache I’ve read many, many accounts of their feeling of desperation and hopelessness. But we cannot let our fear override what’s best for our children.

The antivax movement is dangerous because when vaccination rates drop it puts everyone at risk, but especially the most defenseless among us: infants. We are seeing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease all over the world, and we’re seeing infants too young to be vaccinated dying because of lowered herd immunity. This is no joke, no exaggeration: babies are dying. There are many potential causes of lower vaccine rates, but the antivax movement is is not helping the situation.

Andrew Wakefield may not have started the antivax movement, but he certainly egged it on very strongly, along with such mouthpieces as Jenny McCarthy, and Meryl Dorey and the AVN in Australia. If the charges of fraud can be made to stick, then we might be able to make some progress toward reality once again, and lower the rate of outbreaks of measles, pertussis, and polio… and save a lot of lives in the process.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Debunking, Skepticism

The Autism Science Foundation

By Phil Plait | December 7, 2010 10:38 am

[Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting some calls to action for donations and such. I don’t want to overdo them, so I’m only putting up ones I feel strongly about – ones that promote science and skepticism. This blog reaches a lot of people, and we are mighty. Thanks.]

I write a lot about the antivaccination movement, people who think vaccines cause autism (among other ills). This movement is very strong, despite there being no real evidence to support their claims, and tons and tons of solid evidence against them. The antivax message puts children’s lives at risk, and that’s something that must not stand.

But an important point gets lost among the shouting: while we know vaccines do not cause autism, we don’t know what does. The good news is, while the antivaxxers tilt at windmills, there are scientists out there trying to find out the roots of autism. One organization, the Autism Science Foundation, is just such a science-based group. They’re running a year-end campaign called recipe4hope, and they’ve put together this cute video:

As they say, every little bit helps. If you’ve got something, please send it along. Thanks.

Pertussis claims a ninth infant in California

By Phil Plait | September 15, 2010 12:31 pm

The LA Times is reporting that a ninth infant has died from pertussis — whooping cough — this year alone in California. This is the deadliest outbreak among infants since 2005.

The cause is clearly the lack of vaccinations. At least seven of the infants who died were too young to be vaccinated, which means they rely on herd immunity, the level of immunity in the population at large. Adults can carry the bacteria, and can then spread it to infants.

The root cause behind the lack of immunity in California isn’t clear. It may simply be that not enough adults know they need a Tdap booster (talk to your doctor!), or it may be that there is an antivaccination streak in California. Either way, the California Department of Public Health recommends everyone over 7 years old get immunized, especially people who come in contact with infants.

If you live in California — or anywhere — PLEASE talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated, whether it’s a booster or a first time shot. The cold, hard truth is that babies are dying from a preventable disease. I would dearly love to never have to write another blog post like this one.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience
MORE ABOUT: antivax, vaccinations

Whooping cough now an epidemic in California

By Phil Plait | June 23, 2010 7:48 pm

Syringe, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/8499561@N02/2756332192/According to a statement just released by the California Department of Public Health, pertussis — whooping cough — is now officially an epidemic in California.

That’s right: an almost completely preventable disease is coming back with a roar in California. There have been well over 900 cases of pertussis in that state this year, over four times as many as this time last year (and 600 more suspected cases are being investigated). If this keeps up, California may see more cases in 2010 than it has in 50 years.

If that doesn’t anger and sicken you enough, then this most assuredly will: there have been five deaths this year from pertussis as well, all babies under three months of age.
Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Piece of mind

More vaccination news, some good, some not so good

By Phil Plait | April 27, 2010 1:43 pm

Some vaccine news I missed in the past few days…

1) A pertussis outbreak in California has already killed two infants. This event resonates with what happened in Australia a year ago; vaccination rates are low, and the victims are too young to be vaccinated themselves. With herd immunities compromised, the littlest and most defenseless reap the effects. This is not necessarily caused by the antivaxxers, but it’s worth noting.

2) There is apparently a small outbreak of polio in Tajikistan. Vaccinations are critical, but so is sanitation.

3) PBS airs a documentary called "The Vaccine Wars" tonight. It’s about what you think it’s about. Check your local listings.

4) H1N1 is still out there, and still hurting and killing kids.

5) A bunch of kids got pretty sick after vaccinations in Australia. It’s unclear what happened, and officials are investigating it.

6) The good news? At least for Finland, it’s good: 97% of kids there are vaccinated. For everything. Amazing.

Tip o’ the needle to Antti Säämänen, Doug Troy, William Mount, and Greg Stitz.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Science, Skepticism
MORE ABOUT: antivax, vaccinations

ABC News embraces the nonsense

By Phil Plait | January 6, 2010 11:03 am

You may have heard the recent news that an expert panel of pediatricians reviewed the literature on gastrointestinal disorders and autism, and found no link between them. A key phrase in their findings was

The existence of a gastrointestinal disturbance specific to persons with ASDs (eg, "autistic enterocolitis") has not been established.

They also found that there was no evidence that special diets help autistic kids. Mind you, this was a panel of 28 experts, scientists who have devoted their careers and lives to investigating autism.

So if you were a reporter at ABC News, who would you turn to to get an opinion on this? If you said Jenny McCarthy, then give yourself a gold star, because that’s just what ABC News did. Go and watch that interview (have some antacid ready). In it, she says that scientists need to take anecdotes seriously, a statement so awful it’s hard to know where to start with it.

Jenny Mccarthy and syringe, smallFirst of all, scientists did take the anecdotes seriously. That’s why they investigated any possible links between GI disorders, diets, and autism. What they found was that there is no link.

Second, McCarthy confuses anecdotes with data. As I have said before, anecdotes are where you start an investigation, not where you finish one. That’s the difference between science (aka reality) and nonsense. You can convince yourself of all manners of silliness through personal experience. I decide to whistle before drinking my coffee one morning, and I find a $20 bill in the street. So does that mean if I whistle every morning before my java I will find money? No, of course not. But that’s precisely the type of thinking McCarthy is promoting.

Getting back to ABC News, they also posted a story that tries to throw all sorts of doubt on the results of the report by the pediatric experts. I suppose they’re trying to find balance and all that in this issue, but again, as I have said before, sometimes stories don’t have two sides. There is reality, and there’s fantasy.

Should they post a rebuttal by an astrologer every time we find a new extrasolar planet? How about getting a creationist’s opinion on a new malaria vaccine?

Sadly, Jenny McCarthy is news because she’s the voice of a group of people who listen to her, but that’s at least in part due to the fact that the news organizations treat her seriously. It’s a self-fulfilling news cycle, and ABC News just gave it another nice little boost.

Shame on you, ABC News. Shame.

Happily, not every news outlet is so gullible. USA Today just posted a great article about the dangers of not vaccinating your kids, and they don’t pull any punches. Because people like Jenny McCarthy muddy the waters and add so much noise to the real science, people are turning away from real medicine and embracing "alternative" methods that we know don’t work.

The result it not just that kids who need help aren’t getting it (the so-called "what’s the harm?" fallacy). The result is that kids are getting sick, and some of them are dying. When you reject reality and turn to nonsense, it has real effects. And it’s not just affecting your kids, it affects all kids.

Talk to your physician about vaccines, autism, and diets. Read the real work being done.

Tip o’ the syringe to Gary Schwitzer.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Piece of mind

Vaccines work

By Phil Plait | January 5, 2010 7:30 am

I just wanted to post this graph, which I found while researching vaccinations.


Antivaxxers: bite me*. We win.

* Of course, antivaxxers would never bite me. Since I’m fully vaccinated, they might get autism or mercury poisoning or accidentally catch my reality cooties.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience

Obama sets a good example

By Phil Plait | December 21, 2009 5:09 pm

I love a President who gets it. In general, science, and in particular, vaccinations:


Yeah, he got his novel H1N1 vaccination, just like my daughter did a few hours ago, and just like I will as soon as they are available for adults in my area.

MORE ABOUT: H1N1, Obama, vaccinations

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