Facts, not Fantasy

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Friday, September 03, 2010

Anti Vaccine Watch

The anti vaccine movement has been gaining a lot of strength over the past decade, not only in the US, but also worldwide. Parents, celebrities and other interested parties have been raising a lot of questions and concerns about, what they perceive to be, vaccine concerns. Many of the concerns they raise have been studied in-depth and we have a pretty solid scientific consensus about them. For example, the claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism has failed to be validated, and in fact study after study shows no causation between the two. The same has been true about concerns about thimerosal (a.k.a. mercury).
However, it is important not to demonize this opposition. I have a firm belief that the vast majority of them have their heart in the right place; I believe they are motivated by pretty much the same values that motivate me; that is the well-being of our children. On the other hand, I also believe that they are very picky with the evidence; that they have very low standards for evidence; that they are inconsistent in their logic and either do not understand, or refuse to acknowledge, their logical fallacies, when they commit them. Some of them seem to be too invested in some conspiracy theory and are ideologically opposed to vaccines to the point that, while demanding evidence for X and Y, they are unwilling to accept any evidence for X and Y that opposes their pre-existing beliefs.
Nevertheless, it is important that we take their arguments seriously and devote some of our limited time to looking into the allegations they make, because it is quite conceivable that at some point they may make a good argument, and we shouldn’t be willing to miss  the chance to look into a real issue. So, here at Vaccine Central, I intend to keep an eye on the anti-vaccine side, and address some of the claims they make, from time to time.
Today, we will look at a website called MothersClick which features an article titled “Flu Vaccine Banned in Australia but safe in the US?????“. You can see right away, from the 5 question marks in the title, that this piece is meant to scare, but let us not reach premature conclusions. Let us look at the actual claims in the article, and see if the evidence supports them.
Although it’s still summer here in the US, it is of course winter in Australia, and the flu season is well under way there. As usual, Australian health authorities have been urging parents there to vaccinate their children against the flu, propagating the mythology that flu vaccines are both safe and effective. But this time around, many Australian parents found out the hard way that they were being lied to.
The first thing to notice is the claim that there is a “myth” that flu vaccines are both safe and effective. That is patently not true, unless one twists “safe and effective” to mean that it is 100% safe and 100% effective, which is absurd and irrational to expect of anything that we use or consume in our daily lives. Nothing that we consume is 100% safe; just a little while ago lettuce was recalled because of E. Coli contamination; more recently a major egg recall has been in effect in the US because of salmonella tainting. Products are being called left and right because we’re finding out that they are not 100% safe. Did you know that hood sweaters are recalled because in some instances, to some people, they can be a choking hazard? Did you know that every year there are about 45,000 deaths, in the US alone, due to car accidents? Does this mean we’re being lied to about: lettuce, eggs, hood sweaters, cars and goodness knows what else? Or is it more reasonable to think that humans, and human produced products, are not perfect, and cannot be expected to be otherwise? Then why would we expect perfection from vaccines? Rationally we shouldn’t.
The fear mongering continues:
Remember: Health authorities in Australia, UK, the United States and everywhere else have relentlessly insisted that flu vaccines are perfectly safe and can’t possibly harm anyone. In the U.S., the FDA has given its approval to the very same flu vaccine that’s harming children in Australia, and the CDC has insisted that all children in the USA — regardless of age — should now be injected with this very same flu vaccine. They did not change the vaccine in any way it is the same exact one!!!
There are two claims to unfold here. The first one is that “the United States and everywhere else have relentlessly insisted that flu vaccines are perfectly safe and can’t possibly harm anyone”. Is that true? Does the US government and doctors tell us that flu vaccines are “perfectly safe and can’t possibly harm anyone”? Let’s check.
The CDC has a whole page about Vaccine Side Effects, where they list in detail all the side effects that have been associated with each vaccine in the US schedule, both Mild and Severe reactions, including the flu vaccine. They also provide detailed fliers for both the LAIV version, and the inactivated version of the flu vaccine. Furthermore, since 1988 the United States has set up the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to set aside funds to compensate people who are injured from certain vaccines. Even more, the CDC and the FDA have set up the Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System used to collect information about adverse affects following the vaccination. It is clear that these facts completely contradict the claim that we are being told the flu vaccines are “perfectly safe and can’t possibly harm anyone”. That claim as well is untrue.
The second claim that is being made here is the one expressed in the last sentences, that the same vaccine from Australis is being given to US children. While this is superficially true in the sense that they all are flu vaccines, this is the logical equivalent of saying that eggs being sold in France are the same as the recalled eggs in the US, because they’re both chicken eggs. The fact of the matter is that the CDC recommends that the Australian vaccine, which was associated with highly increased chances of febrile seizures, should not be used in US children.  This applies only to Afluria, a vaccine produced by the same company that produced the Australian one, not to the other brands of flu vaccine which have not been associated with this problem. In fact, if you look at the inactivated flu vaccine flier at the CDC’s website, you will see a prominent disclaimer in the second page, where they suggest now that Afluria shouldn’t be given to any children under the age of 8. Again, to reiterate the point, claiming that you should stay clear of all flu vaccines because the Australian brand seems to be problematic, is akin to saying that someone in France shouldn’t eat eggs because of the egg recall in the US. It appears as though this claim is not true either.
In conclusion, it appears that this piece specifically is making claims that can be shown to be false with a little bit of research. So why did the author make them in the first place? The reasons can be multiple, and I wouldn’t want to speculate. What we need to take away from this short analysis, is that anyone can write anything on the web; that anyone can make any claim they want on the web; that we cannot trust everything we read on the web and the reliability of the source of the information must not be automatically assumed, and that includes me, which is why I try to back up what I say with information from reliable sources. And lastly, just because a conspiracy theory about government cover up sounds possible, it doesn’t make it so, specifically when one considers all the things the government is supposed to be covering up: UFOs, vaccines, nuclear anything, fluoridated water, power lines causing cancer etc etc.

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