… TDAP and flu shots, that is. Much to my chagrin, I found out I hadn’t had my pertussis vaccine booster in a while, so I went to the doctor yesterday and got both that (in the form of the Tetanus/Diphtheria/pertussis shot) as well as my seasonal flu shot:
[Sorry about blurring out my tattoo, but it's not clear that I am allowed to show it on the blog yet.]
Look: vaccines save lives. They don’t cause autism, or do any of the things the antivaxxers claim. And it’s a rock solid fact that babies have been dying all over the world from preventable diseases — 10 infants have died in California alone from pertussis this year. Most of them are too young to get a pertussis shot, so the best thing we all can do is make sure we’re up to date with our vaccines, and that means a periodic TDAP booster. Ask your doctor.
And the flu shot? Just yesterday, a four-year-old boy in New York died of the flu. The flu.
Talk to your doctor, and if they recommend it, get vaccinated.
I have long beaten the drum against the antivaxxers: people who falsely claim that vaccines cause autism, or are loaded with toxins. These groups are loud, in many cases vicious, and all have one thing in common: they are wrong, wrong, wrong. The evidence is overwhelming that vaccines don’t cause autism, for example. We know they don’t.
Despite that, it’s clear that the emotional arguments of antivax groups have some traction among people, especially new parents who are understandably concerned and nervous about their children’s health. We here on the reality side of things can talk facts, statistics, and evidence all we want, but to penetrate through to reason we sometimes have to make our arguments more visceral. More demonstrative.
And that’s why I loved the recent episode of Penn & Teller’s show about vaccines. They used facts and figures, but they also use humor and emotion, and it’s really effective. In a brilliant move, they opened their show with a fantastic demonstration of just why we need to vaccinate our kids [very NSFW language]:
I love it! That is precisely right: even if vaccines caused the woes antivaxxers claim — and as Penn says clearly, they don’t — by sheer numbers it’s clear that vaccinations are still critical.
I can’t stop people from listening to the nonsense the antivaxxers spew, but I can hope that the more we talk about it — and the more we show it — the more people will realize that the antivaxxers are not just wrong, but doing something unconscionable: putting our children’s lives at risk.
- Immunization FAQ and some nice stories
- How safe is Gardasil, and a new antivax FAQ
- Antivaxxers take note: vaccines stop polio outbreak in Tajikistan
- BREAKING: Australian antivax group slammed for "misleading and inaccurate information"
- The vaccine song
How? Through vaccination.
Yup. The first reports of polio were confirmed in April — 413 of them. However, that ended in late June, when no new cases were reported. That is credited to the thousands of doctors and nurses who not only vaccinated at least 97% of the children in each region of the mountainous country, but also flooded the area with multi-lingual informational leaflets, posters, and banners.
And they succeeded! With no new reports, it appears this outbreak was stopped cold.
And with the AVN in Australia getting hammered repeatedly in the press, I can now have some hope that the movement here in the United States, spearheaded by Jenny McCarthy, will die off as well. Vaccinations work, and they save a lot of lives.
This is, quite simply, brilliant. The Vaccine Song:
I have a hard time disagreeing with anything in that song*. I really wish everyone knew that at the same time Jenny McCarthy is railing against vaccines for their toxins, she was injecting botox — which contains botulin, one of the deadliest substances known to mankind — directly into her face.
A special court set up as part of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
has ruled that there is no evidence that thimerosal — a preservative used in vaccines, but removed from virtually all of them years ago — causes autism.
Last year, this same court ruled that evidence presented by families claiming their children were harmed by vaccines was insufficient to show that vaccines cause autism. In fact, one judge said that the families were misled by antivax physicians.
This new ruling is a good one. Medically and scientifically, it’s been known for some time that thimerosal does not cause autism. This graph makes it pretty clear:
Since the removal of thimerosal from most vaccines, autism rates have increased. The antivax movement has frothed and railed about this, but as usual reality is firmly against them. I suggest you read Australian skeptic Maggie’s take on this topic as well.
As a parent myself, I have sympathy for parents of autistic children, I really do: no parent could deny the strong urge to defend and protect their child against all threats. But because we are so strongly emotional in cases like this, we have to be ever-more vigilant about using logic, evidence, and rationality, lest we react to a problem that doesn’t exist. The parents who brought their cases to this court are, I suspect, well-meaning and desperate for answers. But the respite they seek will not be found in an imagined link between vaccinations and autism.
This movement is doing serious damage in two ways. One, it’s scaring parents unreasonably into not vaccinating their kids, putting these children and others at risk for contracting preventable diseases. But second, this whole debacle is distracting researchers against looking for the real causes behind autism. In other words, these people are fighting against their own cause.
We need real answers about autism, and the antivax movement is wasting tremendous resources that could be far, far better spent looking at the reality of the situation. Instead, they rail against phantoms, and the real victims are children, theirs and everybody’s.
Have no doubt, I’m a Mac guy. I don’t drink the Kool Aid, but my time with using PCs is well behind me. But y’know, Bill Gates is still my kinda guy: he and his wife are investing ten billion dollars to get vaccines to kids who need them.
That’s $10,000,000,000. Holy Haleakala. They think this can save nearly 9 million lives, and I think that’s pretty cool:
“Vaccines are a miracle,” added Melinda Gates. “With just a few doses, they can prevent deadly diseases for a lifetime. We’ve made vaccines our priority at the Gates Foundation because we’ve seen firsthand their incredible impact on children’s lives.”
Good on them. Very, very good. This is not only something desperately needed, but the publicity is, haha, a shot in the arm as well.
And if I may disagree ever-so-slightly with Ms. Gates, I’ll add that vaccines are not a miracle: they are the result of science, of clever people, of medical advances. That fact is lost on a lot of folks, including the antivaxxers. On top of this incredibly generous move, I’d love to see Mr. and Ms. Gates donate some money and effort to a good ad campaign that promotes vaccination and specifically targets the claims of the
pro-disease antivax crowd, so that their work will have even more of a sustainable impact. I’m so thrilled they’re doing this, but we also need a national campaign to show people that the antivaxxers are wrong and doing significant damage to the public health.
Still and all: my congrats to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and my very sincere and hearty thanks.
Oh, just a few quickies.
1) I will never get tired of hearing that the truly awful
Australian Anti-Vaccination Network is getting what they deserve.
3) The CDC has released their numbers about the rates of autism. Cue the hysterical antivax lies about it in 3… 2… 1…
4) And ending on a bright note: the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition had a wonderful campaign, asking parents what they gave thanks for. After reading so much bad news about antiscience nutbags, this’ll put a smile on your face.
Oh, that Bill Maher. It’s time to change his show’s name to "Antireality Time". Because when he talks vaccines, he wanders into major woowoo territory.
I don’t need to debunk his antivax nonsense, since actual doctors who have facts at their fingertips do it so well, like in this tirade from Orac and in Steve Novella’s more measured (but just as devastating) response.
But there is one thing I want to mention. My favorite part is when Maher says:
I agree with my critics who say there are far more qualified people than me — its [sic] just that mainstream media rarely interviews doctors and scientists who present an alternative point of view.
First off, that’s total baloney. Go watch the news and other talking head shows; they often have people talking up the "alternative" (that is to say, wrong) point of view when it comes to vaccines. And if these people aren’t certified physicians, what does that tell you? Maybe you’ll come to the correct conclusion that the overwhelming majority of physicians think antivaxxers are full of it.
And second, about talk shows not having "alternative" viewpoints — and this is critical — why should they? When the weatherman talks about lightning in your area, should he give equal time to the Zeus theory?
Feh. Maher digs himself deeper every time he talks about this. Some people hold him up as an icon of skepticism, but it’s simply not true. A lot of non-believers love his ideas and attitude when it comes to religion, which is fine, but it doesn’t translate to his other beliefs, especially when it comes to real medicine. What he does isn’t skepticism, it’s dogma, and just as dogmatic as the religions he mocks.
[Note: After writing this up initially but before posting it, I saw that Steve Novella has also commented on this, and said much of the same thing I did, but in more detail and with more background. Since I spent the time writing this already, I'll keep it as is, but you should go read what he wrote too!]
Bill Maher is hailed by many as a skeptic, but I disagree with that. He is an atheist, and he has some salient points to make about religion and beliefs. However, he is by no means a skeptic when it comes to matters medical. He rails against "western medicine" (what I prefer to call, simply, medicine), thinks vaccines are dangerous, and buys into a lot of nonsense about vaccinations that is known to be wrong. Note that a denier is not the same thing as a skeptic; go read what Orac has to say about Maher to see how the Real Time host misses the mark by miles in his medical beliefs.
You may also guess that I have little love for ex-Senate Majority Leader (and doctor) Bill Frist, who claimed he would never diagnose someone without seeing them first, but then proceeded to do just that on the Senate floor about Terry Schiavo (and get it completely wrong). In my opinion, he let politics trump medicine at that time.
But sometimes medicine wins out: Frist schools Maher on the swine flu on Real Time, with Frist telling Maher point blank that he’s wrong. This is worth watching.
Frist is correct, the things Maher says about vaccines are dead wrong. I wonder if Maher will now do the research instead of just continuing to buy into his flawed belief system?
Tip o’ the syringe to BABloggee Peter Beattie.
Hey look, it’s a disgusting clip of My Close Personal Friend Adam Savage™!
Adam and Jamie made this short video to raise awareness about H1N1, the swine flu. Discovery Channel also put together a nice page with a list of five myths about swine flu.
There are more myths about the swine flu, of course, especially about the vaccine for it. These myths need to be busted too, so go read what pediatrician Dr. Joe Albietz has written about it. And then ask your doctor if you should get the vaccine when it becomes available. I’ll be getting one, and so will my whole family.