Tag: Andrew Wakefield

Which Vaccine Is the Most Dangerous?

In 2002, Dan Rather did a report for 60 Minutes on “The Most Dangerous Vaccine.”

Can you guess which vaccine he was reporting on?

Which Vaccine Is the Most Dangerous?

You are thinking his report was about MMR, the so-called “autism shot,” right?

“And then the nurse gave my son that shot. And I remember going, “Oh, God, no!” And soon thereafter I noticed a change. The soul was gone from his eyes.”

Jenny McCarthy on Oprah

It was around the time that the “media’s MMR hoax” was in high gear.

“Whatever you think about Andrew Wakefield, the real villains of the MMR scandal are the media.”

Ben Goldacre on The MMR story that wasn’t

But 60 Minutes had already done a segment on “The MMR Vaccine” with Andrew Wakefield back in 2000.

The smallpox vaccine was considered the most dangerous as President Bush decided whether or not it was necessary to vaccinate millions against this deadly disease.
The smallpox vaccine was considered the most dangerous as President Bush decided whether or not it was necessary to vaccinate millions against this deadly disease.

No, this story was about the smallpox vaccine.

And if you had to rank vaccines from safest to most dangerous, then yes, you could say that the original smallpox vaccine, the one with the most side effects, is the most dangerous.

Fortunately, that very same smallpox vaccine helped eradicate smallpox and few of us need to even think about getting a smallpox vaccine. It is still given to some folks in the military though and is available if necessary.

The story was about a plan to vaccinate many more people, including hospital workers. At the time, there was a worry about terrorist attacks using smallpox.

“Here’s another way to do it. We can make the vaccine. Make sure we understand who’s going to get it, who’s going to be giving it. Then wait, wait for there to be one case of documented smallpox somewhere on the face of this earth and then we can move into vaccinating people, large numbers of people.”

Paul Offit, MD

Not everyone was on board with the plan though. Dr. Offit, for one, didn’t think that it was a good idea to start vaccinating people for a threat that we didn’t know would appear, especially since the older smallpox vaccine had more side effects than other, more modern vaccines.

Again, that doesn’t mean that the smallpox vaccine is dangerous.

Smallpox is dangerous and deadly. If there is a risk that you could get smallpox, then you would much rather have the smallpox vaccine, even with its side effect profile.

And fortunately, a new attenuated smallpox vaccine, Imvamune, is also available and has less side effects. Two other smallpox vaccines, ACAM2000 and APSV, which are similar to the original DryVax vaccine that was used in the US, are also still being used until Imvamune is formally approved by the FDA.

Vaccine preventable diseases are dangerous.

While they aren’t 100% without risk, vaccines, from rotavirus to HPV, are safe and necessary.

What To Know About the Most Dangerous Vaccine

All vaccines are safe and effective, but if you had to rank them, the original smallpox vaccine would be the most dangerous because it has the most side effects.

More on the Most Dangerous Vaccine

 

Recommendations for Reporting About Vaccines

Historically, the media has played a huge role in pushing vaccine misinformation and scaring parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

“The media created the MMR hoax, and they maintained it diligently for 10 years.”

Dr. Ben Goldacre Bad Science

Even before Andy Wakefield and his MMR hoax, the media helped fuel pertussis outbreaks by pushing the flawed research of John Wilson, which led to lawsuits against DPT vaccines and a big drop in vaccination rates.

None of it was true and the lawsuits failed, but the consequence was still that many unvaccinated kids died.

Bob Sears appeared on Fox & Friends in 2010 for the segment "Vaccines: A Bad Combination?"
Bob Sears appearing on Fox & Friends in 2010 for the segment “Vaccines: A Bad Combination?” is a great example of false balance.

Many others in the media have done a great job in promoting myths and fake controversies about vaccines and have used false balance in their interviews and articles to scare parents.

Fortunately, things have gotten better over the years.

Important Points for Reporting About Vaccines

Still, despite what some folks might think, health journalists aren’t going to get in trouble for reporting about vaccines.

They are going to hear about it if they do a bad job though.

“…it is important to recognise that the balance of media reporting does not necessarily reflect the balance of the argument among the involved professionals – by this is meant that equal weighting might be given by the media (and thus the lay community) to those for and against the vaccine although opponents of vaccination might be a very small number, as for example happened with both pertussis and MMR.”

David Baxter on Opposition to Vaccination and Immunisation the UK Experience – from Smallpox to MMR

Remember, the way that health journalists cover vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases can influence the behavior of people, either helping them understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, putting them on-the-fence about vaccines, or scarring them away from getting vaccinated and protected.

So be careful when reporting about vaccines, as it gives you the opportunity to correct many of myths that scare people, while educating folks about the topic you are covering.

You should also:

Are you ready to cover your next story about vaccines or the next measles outbreak?

What to Know About Reporting on Vaccines

The way that health journalists cover vaccines and vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks can influence the behavior of people, either helping them understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, putting them on-the-fence about vaccines, or scarring them away from getting vaccinated and protected.

More on Reporting about Vaccines

Answers To Frequently Asked Questions About Immunizations

Have questions about your child’s immunizations?

We probably have the answers.

Answers To Frequently Asked Questions About Immunizations

Not surprisingly, many parents have the same questions about immunizations and they want answers to reassure themselves that they are doing the right thing for their kids by getting them vaccinated and protected.

Still have questions?

Rotavirus vaccines are associated with a very small risk of intussusception, but that is not a good reason to miss the benefits of this vaccine.
Like most pediatricians, my kids are vaccinated and protected. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

With so much misinformation out there scaring folks about vaccines, that’s not surprising.

Just keep in mind that every anti-vaccine talking point and myth they push has an easy answer, even as folks continue to move the goalposts in search of new arguments against vaccines.

Yesterday it was mercury. Today it’s aluminum. Tomorrow it will be something else, while they continue to use vaccine scare videos to make you think that vaccines aren’t safe.

Parents who do their research understand that the real threat to their kids isn’t vaccines, it is the anti-vaccine experts that continue to push propaganda about vaccines.

What to Know About Answers To Frequently Asked Questions About Immunizations

The most basic answers to your questions about vaccines are that while vaccines aren’t perfect, they are safe and necessary and they do work well to protect us from vaccine-preventable disease.

More on Frequently Asked Questions About Immunizations

Those Times Alternative Medicine Got It Wrong

Anti-vaccine folks like to use the fallacy that they don’t vaccinate their kids because sometimes science and doctors have been wrong in the past.

They instead turn to alternative medicine when their kids get sick and for their preventative care.

Those Times Alternative Medicine Got It Wrong

While it is true that science gets it wrong sometimes, these people seem to fail to consider that alternative medicine does too.

“…there’s no such thing as conventional or alternative or complementary or integrative or holistic medicine. There’s only medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t. And the best way to sort it out is by carefully evaluating scientific studies – not by visiting Internet chat rooms, reading magazine articles, or talking to friends.”

Paul Offit, MD on Do You Believe in Magic

More than that, they hardly ever get it right.

Remember the teen with osteosarcoma who died after he was treated with shark cartilage instead of chemotherapy?
Remember the teen with osteosarcoma who died after he was treated with shark cartilage instead of chemotherapy?

Need some examples?

  • Ayurvedic treatments can be contaminated with toxic metals
  • biomed treatments for autism – from restrictive diets and chelation to coffee and bleach enemas, these “cures” and treatments have not been shown to be safe, are sometimes known to be dangerous, and don’t even work
  • Cannabis Oil for kids with cancer – while marijuana-derived products might help some medical conditions, it doesn’t cure cancer
  • chiropractic neck manipulation of newborns and infants has no benefits and has caused deaths
  • chronic Lyme disease is not a recognized condition in modern medicine, but that doesn’t keep some ‘Lyme literate’ practitioners from recommending and charging patients for all sorts of unnecessary and sometimes harmful “treatments”
  • faith healing is still allowing children to die of very treatable conditions, from diabetes and appendicitis to common infections and premature babies
  • Gerson protocol – often discussed with other forms of cancer quackery this “radical nutritional program combined with purges (particularly coffee enemas)” is believed by some to cure cancer – it doesn’t
  • HIV denialism – yes, this is a thing, and tragically took the life of Christine Maggiore, her daughter, and many others who eventually died of AIDS
  • homemade baby formula – notorious for leaving out important nutrients, from iron vitamin D to enough calories for a growing baby
  • Hoxsey treatment – a natural treatment for cancer that has been around since the 1950s and has never been shown to work, except in people who never actually had cancer
  • laetrile for cancer – in the late-1970s, kids with treatable forms of cancer had parents who were convinced that this latest fad cure was better. It wasn’t.
  • naturopathy – although mostly looked at as a holistic alternative to other providers, some of these treatments include vitamin injections, hydrogen peroxide injections, and alternative cancer therapies
  • shark cartilage – this was the fad cancer cure in the 1990s that was killing kids who’s parents sought alternative cancer treatments. It didn’t work.

What’s the harm with these treatments?

Many, like Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Reiki, and Reflexology, etc., aren’t necessarily dangerous on their own. In fact, most don’t do anything at all, but they can lead people away from real treatments. And that essentially leaves people untreated.

Getting a fake treatment might not be a big deal when it is a condition that can go away on its own, like when Angelina Jolie talked about getting acupuncture when she had Bell’s Palsy, but it often leads to disastrous consequences when a life-threatening condition goes untreated.

Many people who push these alternative “treatments” often also recommend against standard treatments, like vitamin K shots for newborns, RhoGAM shots for their moms, and vaccines.

Those Times Anti-Vaccine Experts Got It Wrong

It shouldn’t be surprising that many of the folks who think that vaccines are dangerous, aren’t necessary, or that they don’t even work also believe in holistic or alternative treatments.

It also shouldn’t be surprising that they are also wrong a lot:

  • Meryl Dorey – equates vaccination with rape, something many of her followers aren’t even comfortable with
  • Mark and David Geier – this father and son pair are infamous for pushing a chemical castration treatment (Lupron) for autistic children, a treatment that led to Mark Geier losing his medical license (he’s a geneticist) in several states.
  • Jay Gordon, MD – once made the comment that “Heaven help us if we have a generation of kids who get a hepatitis B vaccine and a HPV vaccine and they think that now unprotected sex is okay…” Not surprisingly, studies have found that this doesn’t happen. In fact, teen pregnancy rates are at their lowest levels ever.
  • Suzanne Humphries, MD – a nephrologist who became a homeopath and now pushes anti-vaccine talking points, believes that vaccines don’t work and that polio never really disappeared, and that we don’t “see it anymore” because we changed its name to acute flaccid paralysis.
  • Robert F. Kennedy, Jr – continues to push the idea that thimerosal in vaccines is causing an autism epidemic.
  • Neil Z. Miller – a psychologist who has written many anti-vax books, gives lectures at chiropractic associations, and published his daughter’s book, Ambassadors Between Worlds, Intergalactic Gateway to a New Earth, which describes how they are both able to talk to intergalatic beings because she has been doing it for multiple lifetimes. No word yet if folks from the Pleiadians vaccinate their kids…
  • Tetyana Obukhanych, MD – the Harvard trained immunologist who believes that Immunology has no theoretical or evidence-based explanation for immunity.
  • Viera Scheibner – the micropaleontologist who thinks that getting a vaccine-preventable disease is good for kids, that vaccines are contaminated with amoebas, and that they cause SIDS and shaken baby syndrome
  • Bob Sears, MD – infamous for his alternative vaccine schedule that was never tested for safety or efficacy, he and now rallies folks against California’s new vaccine law
  • Stephanie Seneff – the MIT doctor (she has a doctorate in electrical engineering) who thinks that half of kids will have autism in eight years and that glyphosate causes everything from autism to school shootings and terrorist bombings.
  • Yehuda Shoenfeld, MD – an immunologist who heads the Zabludowicz Center for Autoimmune Diseases and is on the scientific advisory board for the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute. He is the latest to blame adjuvants for causing disease – his Autoimmune Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants (ASIA), which is often described as being a “basically a made-up syndrome that isn’t generally accepted.”
  • Sherri Tenpenny, DO – described as an anti-vax “expert” whose advise is “chock full of vaccine pseudoscience.” Once board certified in emergency medicine, Dr. Tenpenny now sells DVDs and supplements on her website, speaks at chiropractic health events, and provides holistic medical care. In a rant about freedom of choice in vaccination, she talks about General Robert E. Lee, Southern war hero and postwar icon of the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy,” the extinction of humanity, and about slavery and eight veils that must be pierced if you want to see what is really going on in the world – that the Illuninati and other secret organizations control us and that they are being controlled by time traveling dragons, lizards, and aliens.
  • Tim O’Shea, DC – a chiropractor, he speaks at anti-vax conferences and wrote an anti-vaccination book called The Sanctity of Human Blood: Vaccination is not Immunization. Dr. O’Shea does not believe that germs make us sick (germ theory denialism), thinks that vaccines cause peanut allergies, and he sells supplements and seminars.
  • Kelly Brogan, MD – a holistic psychiatric who recommends that patients wean off their prescribed medications and has talked about HIV denialism.
  • Erin Elizabeth – is pushing the idea that holistic practitioners are being murdered

And of course there is Andrew Wakefield – his scandal and MMR-autism fraud is well known.

Are these folks ever right?

Only if you buy into their anti-vaccine talking points.

What to Know About When Alternative Medicine Was Wrong

Alternative medicine is rarely right, and that can have life-threatening consequences when it leads folks to reject traditional treatments when they are really sick.

More on When Alternative Medicine Was Wrong

The Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award

With rare exception, the media has long played a big influence in feeding the anti-vaccination movement.

“The media created the MMR hoax, and they maintained it diligently for 10 years.”

Dr. Ben Goldacre Bad Science

It didn’t start with Andy Wakefield and his MMR hoax though.

John Birch (B) and the other anti-vaccine heroes of the day on their way to fight the vaccination monster.
John Birch (B) and the other anti-vaccine heroes of the day on their way to fight the vaccination monster.

Satirical prints that were printed in the very early 1800s showed people getting vaccinated and sprouting horns or turning into cows. And long after that, just before Wakefield got folks scared of the MMR vaccine, another doctor in England got them scared of the DPT vaccine.

Dr. John Wilson took to the media to scare parents because he had “seen too many children in whom there has been a very close association between a severe illness, with fits, unconsciousness, often focal neurological signs, and inoculation.”

What followed was a drop in DPT vaccinations in many countries and vaccine lawsuits, even though his study was later found to be seriously flawed, with most having no link to the DPT vaccine.

The Media’s Role in Pushing Vaccine Misinformation

Many people don’t realize the role that the media plays a big role in fueling the anti-vaccine movement.

We recently saw that when folks had to be reminded that Oprah gave a very high platform to Jenny McCarthy and her views that vaccines caused her child to become autistic, even though she admitted on Oprah’s show that “she missed signs of Evan’s autism,” after telling everyone earlier that he had developed autism after getting his MMR, the “autism shot.”

“And then the nurse gave my son that shot. And I remember going, “Oh, God, no!” And soon thereafter I noticed a change. The soul was gone from his eyes.”

Jenny McCarthy on Oprah

Maybe these people and organizations should be recognized when they use false balance and poor reporting to promote pseudoscience and anti-vaccine talking points to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

The Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award

Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey went on a mission to Green Our Vaccines in 2008.
Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey went on a mission to Green Our Vaccines in 2008.

Remember Sharyl Attkisson?

Sharyl Attkisson was an investigational reporter for CBS News.

She is best known for defending Andrew Wakefield and trying to promote a connection between vaccines and autism.

In her honor, we will be awarding a Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award for the folks in the media who have done the best job in promoting myths and fake controversies about vaccines and have used false balance in their interviews and articles to scare parents:

  • Lea Thompson for her anti-vaccine documentary DPT: Vaccine Roulette
  • Robert Kennedy Jr. for his now retracted “error-laced” expose about vaccines and autism (Deadly Immunity) that appeared in both Salon and Rolling Stone
  • the Huffington Post before 2012, when the “The site arguably features more scientific quackery than any other mainstream media outlet.”
  • Phil Donahue – before Oprah, we had the Donahue show, where Phil Donahue gave a huge platform to the first anti-vaccine celebrity pediatrician (no, not Jay Gordon or Bob Sears), Robert Mendelsohn. He also featured Lisa Bonet, of The Cosby Show fame, on his show back in 1990, when she told everyone that she wasn’t vaccinating her daughter.
  • ABC’s Good Morning America for giving a platform to Cindy Crawford and her celebrity pediatrician, Jay Gordon, MD
  • Oprah for giving such a huge platform for Jenny McCarthy
  • Katie Couric for her segment on Now with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric about DPT “hot lots” in 1994, her 2008 segment, “How Independent Are Vaccine Defenders?,” on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and her more her more recent segment on the HPV vaccine on her daytime talk show, Katie.
  • Larry King for his interviews with Bill Maher, Jim Carey, and multiple interviews with Jenny McCarthy on  CNN’s Larry King Live
  • NBC’s The TODAY Show for rebroadcasting DPT: Vaccine Roulette to a national audience and more recently, giving a platform to Robert DeNiro to discuss his views about vaccines and autism and the movie VAXXED
  • ABC’s 20/20 for their segments about the hepatitis B vaccine, Who’s Calling the Shots?, and for another segment featuring Jenny McCarthy
  • ABC’s Nightline for their segment on vaccine injury featuring Barbara Loe Fisher
  • CBS’s 60 Minutes for their segment,The MMR Vaccine, featuring Andrew Wakefield
  • Lisa Liddane for her 2006 article in the Orange County Register, Asking questions about vaccinations, which features Bob Sears and talks about toxins and reasons why parents want to delay vaccines, devoting little space to why it is not necessary and very dangerous
  • Matt Lauer for his hour-long episode, A Dose of Controversy, on NBC’s Dateline, in which he interviewed Andrew Wakefield
  • Michelle Woo for her article in the OC Weekly, Dr. Robert Sears Takes on Both Sides of the Great Vaccination Divide, which claims he has found “a middle ground in America’s war on vaccinations”
  • the Des Moines Register for posting an article, Effectiveness, safety of vaccines questioned, by Eileen Dannemann, the founder of an anti-vaccine website
  • the Portland Tribune editorial board for their piece, Our Opinion: Vaccination issue begs for open debate, in which this free, weekly paper basically repeated many anti-vaccine talking points
  • David Bruser and Jesse McLean at the Toronto Star for their now retracted 2015 article, HPV vaccine Gardasil has a dark side, Star investigation finds,  which claimed that the HPV vaccine is unsafe
  • Frederik Joelving and Susan Matthews for the Slate article, What the Gardasil Testing May Have Missed, which claims that the clinical trials for Gardasil weren’t designed properly and based on anecdotal evidence, implies that it is causing women to develop POTS

Do you know anyone who deserves a Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award?

What to Know About the Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award

In addition to fake news about vaccines, we see a lot of poor reporting and false balance by some reporters and organizations that leads parents to think that there is still a real debate going on about the safety and importance of getting vaccinated and protected.

More On the Sharyl Attkisson Journalism Award:

Retracted Anti-Vaccine Studies

Everyone knows that Andy Wakefield‘s fraudulent MMR study was retracted.

Andrew Wakefield was the lead author on his retracted paper.
Andrew Wakefield was the lead author on his retracted paper.

That’s the study that got folks scared into thinking that vaccines are associated with autism.

Surprisingly, it’s not the only one…

Retracted Anti-Vaccine Studies

Actually, it shouldn’t be surprising at all.

Most studies that are touted by the anti-vaccine movement are poorly done and often flawed.

And they include these other papers and studies that have been retracted:

Is it a coincidence that all of the researchers who have had papers retracted seem to get funding from the CMSRI?

What else has been retracted?

The “Deadly Immunity” article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

And the survey, “Vaccination and Health Outcomes: A Survey of 6- to 12-year-old Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Children based on Mothers’ Reports,” was originally retracted by Frontiers in Public Health before finding a home at another journal under a different name. That journal quickly retracted it too, but they then published the “fatally flawed” paper for some reason.

What to Know About Retracted Anti-Vaccine Studies

Many of the heroes of the anti-vaccine movement have published fatally-flawed studies that have been later retracted.

More on Retracted Anti-Vaccine Studies

Anecdotes as Evidence

Evidence is evidence, right?

Not really.

There is a hierarchy of evidence, from weakest to strongest, that help folks make decisions about science and medicine.

In an age when everything is evidence of something, remember that anecdotes are not scientific evidence.

That’s why you can’t just search PubMed, read abstracts, and say that you have done your research. For any study, you have to review and judge the quality of the evidence it provides.

Is it a case report (a glorified anecdote), case series, or animal study (lowest quality evidence) or a systemic review or meta analyses (highest quality evidence)?

What about case control studies, cohort studies, and randomized controlled trials? They lie somewhere in between on the hierarchy of evidence scale.

Anecdotes as Evidence

And where do anecdotes fit in?

“Anecdotes are uncontrolled subjective observations. I have often criticized reliance on anecdotes, which is especially problematic in medicine. The problem with anecdotes is that they are subject to a host of biases, such as confirmation bias. They are easily cherry picked, even unintentionally, and therefore can be used to support just about any position. For every anecdote, there is an equal and opposite anecdote.”

Steven Novella on The Context of Anecdotes and Anomalies

Anecdotes are not scientific evidence.

Unfortunately, some people use anecdotal evidence to make some very serious decisions, including skipping or delaying their children’s vaccines, leaving them unvaccinated and unprotected.

“An anecdote is a story – in the context of medicine it often relates to an individual’s experience with their disease or symptoms and their efforts to treat it. People generally find anecdotes highly compelling, while scientists are deeply suspicious of anecdotes. We are fond of saying that the plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data.”

Steven Novella on The Role of Anecdotes in Science-Based Medicine

Believing that anecdotes are important scientific evidence is also what often drives some pediatricians to pander to fears that parents may have about vaccines, helping them create non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedules.

What else do you need to know about anecdotal evidence?

Anecdotes are basically the fuel of the anti-vaccine movement.

“With little or no evidence-based information to back up claims of vaccine danger, anti-vaccine activists have relied on the power of storytelling to infect an entire generation of parents with fear of and doubt about vaccines. These parent accounts of perceived vaccine injury, coupled with Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent research study linking the MMR vaccine to autism, created a substantial amount of vaccine hesitancy in new parents, which manifests in both vaccine refusal and the adoption of delayed vaccine schedules.”

Shelby et al on Story and science

Well, anecdotes and fear – often combined in vaccine scare videos.

If you have been making your vaccine decisions based on anecdotes, it is time to do a little more research and get better educated about vaccines.

What to Know About Anecdotes as Evidence

Anecdotes, although they are easy to believe, are not scientific evidence, and certainly shouldn’t persuade you that vaccines aren’t safe, that vaccines aren’t necessary, or that vaccines are associated with autism.

More on Anecdotes as Evidence