Facts, not Fantasy

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Evolution and Vaccination - A destruction of an anti-vaccine argument

It's no secret that a lot of the anti-vaccine movement exists due to the ignorance of parents who need to make decisions with their child's healthcare. Anti-Vaccine portrays themselves as scientists when they are not often using acronyms and official sounding degrees and lab coats to make themselves seem like they are professionals.

They work by creating unreasonable doubt and by portraying their qualifications as equal to a medic when in reality they generally follow incredibly outdated medical practices and ideas that are laughably out dated in a science that is moving at a pretty hefty pace. They lie and portray deadly diseases as "harmless" and easily controlled by nutrition, vitamins and magic water.

They show a complete lack of understanding of statistics, probability and actual terminology and appeal to ideas like "souls", "harmony", "balance" and "energy". Words which mean very little in terms of the biochemical machine that is your body and are even more vague when one asks them to describe a medical condition.

Today we deal with Vactruth's article by Bunny St. Marie on Vaccine Resistant Pathogens. And it is basically a collection of incredibly daft ideas that need to be dismantled comprehensively lest I be accused of quote mining and taking ideas out of context.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Vaccine Times: Whooping Cough outbreak sickens over 140 people in Canada

We all know that Canada is just one of those third world nations with no infrastructure and no access to any health care what so ever, right?  Right? Well, The Vaccine Times found this gem that I wanted to pass along.

A whooping cough outbreak in British Columbia, Canada has sickened more than 140 people since December, prompting Canadian Health authorities to issue a warning. Hotspots  include the Fraser Valley, Hope, Chilliwack and Agassiz areas. If you are traveling to the area make sure you have received your booster shot, and especially if traveling with children make sure they are up-to-date with their DTaP vaccine. Pertussis can be particularly dangerous if caught by a young child, especially a baby who hasn’t had a chance to be vaccinated yet.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Vaccine Times: There isn’t a single study on the cumulative effects of……

A very interesting post recently at The Vaccine Times reporting on an early result from a study.  I highly suggest you check out the linked Steve Novella link as well.  This is from a neurologist, and the study results are about neurology after all!  Just be glad the science takes a rigorous approach and actually comes to defensible conclusions about the world around us as opposed to finger pointing and wild speculation.
Recently a new study came out which suggested that changes to the brains of autistic children might be detectable as early as 6 months of age. Steve Novella has covered this particular study at his Neurologica blog so there is no need to repeat what he said there. Predictably, the anti-vaccination crowd has come out restating their belief that vaccinations are still to blame. Now, to be fair nothing in this study proves that vaccines cannot cause, or have any effect on, autism. All it says is that it may be possible to notice differences in the brain as early as 6 months of age, and even at that it does not provide a diagnostic tool, due to its size (92 infants) and limitations. It certainly points to an interesting direction, but I do not believe any strong conclusions can be drawn from it.
If the results can be replicated in larger studies though, it would certainly lay to rest one of the myths about vaccines and autism, namely the one that maintains that vaccines given at or around the age of 2 cause autism, i.e. it would exonerate the MMR vaccine for example. But that is not what I wish to deal with today. What I do wish to deal with today is the common anti-vaccine conundrum that “there isn’t a single study on the cumulative effects of vaccines on (fill in the blank)“. You will always hear this from the anti-vaccine crowd, especially when the topic of autism is being discussed. Superficially it seems to make sense, after all if we’re giving vaccines to children why shouldn’t we test if in the cumulative they cause autism?
The problem is, of course, that there are thousands of afflictions that one could choose to blame vaccines for, and then turn around and ask why a cumulative study of the effects of the vaccination schedule on that particular affliction has not been done. The list could include, but not be limited to:
  • Nearsightedness
  • Farsightedness
  • Cancer (all types)
  • Diabetes
  • Bone breakage
  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Heart problems
  • Lung problems
  • Kidney failure
  • and on, and on, and on
I wish to be clear that I do not mean to make light of the seriousness of autism as a disorder. The point is that we could pick literally hundreds of things to blame on vaccines and demand cumulative studies to be done, and maintain the vaccines are to blame until said studies are done, effectively perpetually moving the goal post so that vaccines are never considered “good enough”. Even the most strident anti-vaccine activist has to concede that research money is limited and we cannot possibly run studies about everything, so a certain level of plausibility must be established before studies of this magnitude are to be undertaken.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ivory Coast: Meningitis outbreak kills 11 during first three days of February

This particular article highlights why organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, and the like are so important!  It doesn't matter if these people are in a distant nation, or are poor, or whatever the case may be.  They are still people, and having people suffer and die from something that is preventable is a crime.  And this doesn't only happen in third world countries.  Meningitis also happens in the US, especially in places where a lot of people live together, such as at a university.  And this $5 shot absolutely nets "big pharma" much less than the $250,000 course of treatment for meningitis...  Just get vaccinated already.
There have been 40 cases of meningitis reported in four departments across the Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) during the first three days of February 2012, including 11 fatalities.
The outbreak reported Friday has caused people to seek out vaccinations for their families.
According to an Integrated Regional Information Networks report:
The ministry of health has declared the outbreaks in the Kouto and Tengrela regions as epidemics, and are providing free vaccinations in both locations through mobile health teams.
They are achieving this with the help of the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
The report also notes that the cost for the meningitis vaccine costs $5 USD for and $3 for groups in the cities of Saminkro and Kani. The costs are too much for many families, which has caused them to lobby for cheaper vaccines.
However, as Jeremie Ipo, director of the district health centre in the village of Poungbè in Korhogo region notes that the cost is based on economics, “We can only reduce the price of the vaccine as soon as there are enough people demanding it.”

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Understanding How Vaccines Work

The CDC has an excellent pamphlet that everyone should read!  It basically explains how vaccines work without getting too technical (a danger that people who have to fight for reality all too often fall into, because reality is complicated).

Click the image to go to the actual CDC Pamphlet.  I do love a line right from the pamphlet (emphasis mine):
"Vaccines greatly reduce the risk of infection by working with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop immunity to disease."
Funny how this seems to be missed by the anti-vax pro-disease nutters...

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A Photon in the Darkness: It's Natural

How often has some wooish person told you to take something, or adhere to something because it's "natural".  This (and chemical free) are a couple of my pet peeves.  Not because they are particularly wooish, but because they expose the blatant ignorance, and poor education of the wooist caught up in this particular brand of delusion.  A Photon in the Darkness also has an encounter with this type of woo that makes for a good story:

It’s Natural!

January 25th, 2012

I think I need to switch radio stations.
If you remember, last summer, the station I was listening to on my weekly drive to Downstate Univ. was carrying advertisements for a pseudo-study of a “natural” remedy for “low testosterone”. Lately, the same station has been bombarding me with ads for a “natural” way for post-menopausal women to ”restore hormonal balance”. This “hormonal balance”, we are told, will not only eliminate the hot flashes and other problems of menopause, it will allow us to “eliminate that stubborn belly fat”. On top of that, the advertisement assures us that it is “natural” (Note: so are hemlock, tetanus and dying in childbirth).
Up to now, I have dealt with this by simply changing the station, but I recently had a friend tell me that she had started this “natural” remedy in an attempt to ”restore hormonal balance” (and, I suspect, to get rid of her “stubborn belly fat”, although neither of us brought that up). She was quite enthusiastic about the remedy, although on closer questioning she admitted that the hot flashes hadn’t gotten much better, although she was positive they were “less intense”, if just as frequent as before.
What finally got me out of my “if you can’t say something nice…” reticence, though, was when she told me that she felt this “natural” remedy was vastly superior to the hormonal replacements her doctor and she had discussed (and decided against). And those of you who have read my ‘blog before can probably guess why…
“It’s natural!”
Cautiously, I asked her a few questions. First, I asked her if she knew what was in the pills she was taking; she didn’t,

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A Photon in the Darkness: Autism and Insurance

I have been very negligent in posting lately, so I plan on setting quite a few posts up in the queue in order to pass along some information to you all.  This particular post from "Prometheus" at the A Photon in the Darkness blog seems rather appropriate, even though the date of the post is a bit out of date.

Autism and Insurance: Myths vs Reality

December 22nd, 2011

Earlier this week, I had arranged to have coffee with a close friend of mine. When I arrived, she was holding a copy of the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal and was quite upset about an article on the “Affordable Care Act” (”Obama-care”). In this article, it was mentioned that the department of Health and Human Services was planning to leave it up to the various states whether or not to mandate “autism treatment” coverage. This, she felt, was a cruel blow to families with autistic children. Fortunately, I had been through this all before, many years ago, when my child was first diagnosed with autism, so I had some perspective to offer.
Back in those dark days, we were casting about for something, anything to do to help our child, even to the point of attending a “DAN! conference”. In that “conference” (it was more like a revival meeting than a conference), we heard repeated, over and over, that health insurance plans would not pay for anything related to autism, the dreaded “299.0″ (ICD-9 code for autism). As I later recalled, this “fact” was most often mentioned by practitioners who offered “alternative” treatments for autism.
Shortly after returning from that “conference”, I had the opportunity to question (”interrogate” might describe the flavour of that exchange better) our paediatrician about that point. He was - and is - an exceptionally patient person and managed to answer my question without adressing my obvious hostility.
As he explained it, the insurance companies look over each bill and ensure that - among other things - that the procedural code (CPT codes) matches up with the diagnostic code. They want to ensure that a doctor isn’t claiming reimbursement for an appendectomy when the diagnosis is “bunion”, for example. For this reason, chelation and HBOT aren’t “approved” for autism because - as I’ve outlined in several ‘blog postings - they haven’t been shown to be effective in the treatment of autism, just as appendectomy hasn’t been shown to be an effective treatment for bunions.
Other issues that arise, especially in the “alternative” treatment of autism, are when the “treatment” is either of questionable effectiveness, such as “Applied Behavioral Analysis”, or its effectiveness has not been demonstrated. Insurance companies usually see these as “experimental” treatments and refuse to pay for them.
However, parents have also complained that they are unable to get insurance companies to pay for “mainstream” therapies, such as speech therapy and psychiatric consultation when the diagnosis was “autism”. This, according to our patient paediatrician, is due to the ignorance of the practitioner. There is no universal treatment for “autism” - it is too broad and heterogenous a diagnosis for that. So, to justify - for example - speech therapy, another diagnosis is needed, since the diagnosis of “autism” does not, in itself, imply a need for (or benefit from) speech therapy. Experienced and well-trained practitioners are aware of this requirement and so don’t submit bills that don’t have proper justification for the prescribed (or recommended) therapies.
When I later questioned some of the parents who had complained about having insurance companies refuse to pay for “autism”-related treatments, I found that a few things kept cropping up:

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Actual News Story on Vaccines

Isn't it sad when a media outlet that most Americans would have a visceral revulsion to actually carries news that is much more factually correct, and doesn't give in to the false "both sides" fallacy when it comes to vaccines?  There is a reason that whenever the anit-vax pro-disease nutters have one of their "experts" on, they are generally either not an actual doctor, or they are discredited because of their non-reality based practices.

With apologies to Tim Minchin: You know what you call alternative medicine that works? Medicine!

Harpocrates Speaks: Of Maths and Measels

When it comes to loony causes, I have to rank the anti-vax pro-disease nutters as some of the looniest...  And a good tell-tale signal that a cause is loony is the level of deception that they will use to twist and distort facts.  The creationists are a good example of this.  However, Todd W. has written a great article about the way that the pro-disease anti-vaxers seem to try to abuse math to support their lies.

Of Maths and Measles

There are times that I really despair for our country. Specifically, the educational system troubles me from time to time. Take simple mathematics, as an example. By the time one graduates high school and becomes a, presumably, productive adult in our society, regardless of whether said individual goes on to college or jumps right into the workforce, there are certain simple skills that they should have. All the basics should be well in hand: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. They should have a good understanding of decimals, fractions and percentages. Even if someone needs to use a calculator, rather than doing it in their head or scratching a problem out on paper, they should at least have an understanding of how these things work and how to use them.

This woe for the state of education came bubbling up again as I read a comment on a PBS article about the measles outbreak in Indiana. Allie Morris, the author of the article, wrote that at least 13 of the individuals who had contracted measles had a history of MMR vaccine refusal. The commenter, Mmavallet, couldn't believe this number, suggesting that it was statistically impossible for there to be 13 individuals who were all unvaccinated, coupled with a belief that the vaccine couldn't be 95% effective (it's not, BTW, being >99% effective):
I don't buy that all 13 people spread over various counties were all unvaccinated. And the MMR does not have a 95% efficacy rate or else you wouldn't be having these outbreaks in a population where 98% of people vaccinate. It's statistically impossible. If you really research the numbers on these outbreaks, about 50% of those infected are vaccinated! If they really worked, you wouldn't have to continually get revaccinated for the same illness. It's not immunity if it wears off...only natural immunity is permanent.
Let's take a closer look at the issue, shall we?

Basically, the problem involves figuring out a couple of fractions and percentages. We might all remember story problems asking us to figure out that X is what percentage of Y? Or, alternatively, X is Z percent of what? And yet another variation, what is Z percent of Y? This can be boiled down into a simple equation:
X/Y = %/100
To address this individual's comment, we would need to start with a few basic assumptions. First, that the vaccine is 95% effective (we'll do this with a 99% figure, as well). Second, we need to know about how virulent measles is; in other words, what percentage of vulnerable people would be infected if exposed? According to the CDC, that attack rate is about 90%. Finally, we need to know what the approximate uptake rate is for the vaccine. The commenter claims that 98% of individuals in the area vaccinate. We'll use that number for our calculations.