Tag: vaccinology

About those Stanley Plotkin Videos…

Stanley Plotkin is typically described as “a prominent figure in the history of vaccinology, whose work on vaccine development has led to a significant reduction in morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases in the second part of 20th century. “

Why?

For one thing, he developed the rubella vaccine that we still use today.

He also worked on vaccines against CMV, polio, chicken pox, rabies, and rotavirus.

What Did Stanley Plotkin Say While He Was Under Oath?

That’s not why anti-vaccine folks are talking about him these days, or maybe it is…

Mostly, they are misinterpreting comments he made during a videotaped deposition.

“Lori Matheson is fighting her ex-husband, Michael Schmitt, for the right to decide if their two-year-old daughter should be vaccinated.”

Michigan anti-vaccination case to goes to court

A videotaped deposition in a case involving parents who disagreed about vaccinating their daughter…

Even though it isn't his exact quote and anti-vaccine folks don't give you the full context of what he was talking about, it is clear that Dr. Plotkin simply meant that you can't prove a negative.
Even though it isn’t his exact quote and anti-vaccine folks don’t give you the full context of what he was talking about, it is clear that Dr. Plotkin simply meant that you can’t prove a negative.

What do anti-vaccine folks think he said?

“I would say it is logically true that you cannot say, you cannot point to proof that it doesn’t cause autism. ”

Stanley Plotkin, M.D.

No, he isn’t saying that vaccines are associated with autism.

“I could not say that as a, as a scientist or a logician. But I can say as a physician that, no, they do not cause autism, because as a physician, I have to take the whole body of scientific information into consideration when I make a recommendation for a child.”

Stanley Plotkin, M.D.

All he is saying is that you can’t definitively prove a negative.

One of the different things in communicating the fact that there is no link is that science and English are not really the same language. So when a scientist says, “We have no evidence that there’s a link between vaccines and autism,” what they’re really saying is, “We are as positive as someone can humanly be that there’s no link.”
Seth Mnookin explain it well – One of the different things in communicating the fact that there is no link is that science and English are not really the same language. So when a scientist says, “We have no evidence that there’s a link between vaccines and autism,” what they’re really saying is, “We are as positive as someone can humanly be that there’s no link.”

For example, just because I have never seen a black swan, I can’t use that as proof that black swans don’t exist somewhere. After all, I haven’t been everywhere.

“…scientists can be at a real disadvantage in this debate because they, by their nature, are careful in how they present their conclusions.”

Vaccines: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

What else do anti-vaccine folks have a problem with?

Remember the rubella vaccine he developed?

“After a detour to obtain credentials as a pediatrician, I returned to Wistarto work on rubella. Those years were fraught with advances and reverses, controversy and eventually vindication. The pandemic of CRS babies in 1964-65 was an important stimulus to research on the vaccine. “

Stanley Plotkin’s On the Occasion of the Presentation Of The 2002 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal

During the rubella epidemic of 1964-65, there were 12.5 million rubella virus infections, which “resulted in 11,250 therapeutic or spontaneous abortions, 2,100 neonatal deaths, and 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome.”

And that’s just in the United States.

The controversy?

“There were only two fetuses involved in making vaccines. When fetal strains of, fibroblast strains were first developed, I was involved in that work trying to characterize those cells; but they were not used to make vaccines.”

Stanley Plotkin, M.D.

It is well known (this isn’t some shocking truth as some are trying to push) that some vaccines are made with fetal embryo fibroblast cells (the WI-38 and MRC-5 cells) from cell lines that are derived (they can replicate infinitely) from two electively terminated pregnancies (abortions) in the 1960s.

Those two fetuses weren’t the only two fetuses ever used in research though, they were just the only ones used to actually make vaccines.

“Human diploid cell strains (HDCSs) are batches of cells that are currently used for different purposes, including culturing viruses for the manufacturing of vaccines”

A brief history of human diploid cell strains.

They had to get to the point where they knew how to make vaccines in human cell lines though and that’s what he is talking about in the deposition.

“Q. In any event, so we have 76 in this study. Would you approximate it’s been a few hundred fetuses?


A. Oh, no, I don’t think it was that many. Probably not many more than in this paper. And I should stipulate that we had nothing to do with the cause of the abortion.”

It took some experimentation to find the right kind of cells and the right methods, but ultimately, they found that fetal embryo fibroblast cells were the best to use to grow many viruses.

Copies of those same cells are still used today.

What about the other “issues” brought up in the deposition?

Did he experiment on orphans, people who were mentally handicapped, or those who lived in third world countries?

“I don’t remember specifically, but it’s possible. And, again, I repeat that in the 1960s, that was more or less common practice. I’ve since changed my mind. But those were, that was a long time ago.”

Stanley Plotkin, M.D.

Those were different times, but Dr. Plotkin’s vaccine studies weren’t unethical and weren’t like what was done at Willowbrook, in which children were purposely exposed to hepatitis, with the justification that most of them ended up getting it anyway.

Surprisingly, in the early 1970s, there was still some debate about the ethics of doing experiments on children, and as you can see, using ableist language to describe children with a disability.
Surprisingly, in the early 1970s, there was still some debate about the ethics of doing experiments on children, and as you can see, using ableist language to describe children with a disability.

And from those times, experts developed the rules for how things are now done.

Ironically, anti-vaccine folks are pushing this stuff about Plotkin, but don’t understand why leaving kids completely unvaccinated and unprotected in a study is unethical.

“One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion. The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”

National Catholic Bioethics Center FAQ on the Use of Vaccines

Or why it’s immoral to push anti-vaccine propaganda or put others at risk to get a vaccine-preventable disease.

“Results indicate that the total number of cases of poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, adenovirus, rabies and hepatitis A averted or treated with WI-38 related vaccines was 198 million in the U.S. and 4.5 billion globally (720 million in Africa; 387 million in Latin America and the Caribbean; 2.7 billion in Asia; and 455 million in Europe). The total number of deaths averted from these same diseases was approximately 450,000 in the U.S., and 10.3 million globally (1.6 million in Africa; 886 thousand in Latin America and the Caribbean; 6.2 million in Asia; and 1.0 million in Europe).”

Olshansky et al on The Role of the WI-38 Cell Strain in Saving Lives and Reducing Morbidity

Dr. Plotkin’s work has helped save millions of lives.

“His achievements in vaccinology are on a scale that truly can be measured in lives saved and lives restored.”

On the Occasion of the Presentation Of The 2002 Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal

And that’s why anti-vaccine folks are attacking him.

More on Stanley Plotkin

What Your Doctor Knows About Vaccines

Are doctors experts on vaccines?

Some clearly are not.

I’m talking about the doctors who push classic anti-vaccine misinformation and who also believe that homeopathic treatments work. This includes the classic holistic pediatricians and so-called “vaccine friendly” pediatricians.

In addition to not learning about vaccines, they seem to have skipped the lectures about germ theory, immunology, and much of the science behind modern medicine.

What Your Doctor Knows About Vaccines

Although everyone’s education is different, doctors have plenty of opportunities to learn about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases in medical school and during their residency.

I know I did.

But then I trained at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, where John D. Nelson, MD established the first formal Pediatric Infectious Disease fellowship program. I was fortunate enough to be trained at an institution with Dr. Nelson and George McCracken, MD, who together created the National Pediatric Infectious Disease Seminars and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. Not surprisingly, they created an environment where we learned a lot about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases.

Maybe Dr. Bob didn't learn much about vaccines in medical school, but I know I did...
Maybe Dr. Bob didn’t learn much about vaccines in medical school, but I know I did…

And at Parkland Hospital, with the busiest nursery in the United States, and at Children’s, with a very busy ER and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, I took care of more than a few kids with now vaccine-preventable diseases, especially meningococcemia and pneumococcal meningitis.

I also took Rory Coker’s Pseudoscience class in college, which has helped me avoid believing a lot of the misinformation of the anti-vaccine movement.

While other doctors may not have had the same experiences, they at least took the same classes. Although few take a specific course in vaccinology, unless it is an elective, formal classes in the first two years that would cover vaccines or vaccine-preventable diseases include:

  • Cell Biology
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology

Later on, as medical students begin to see patients and they rotate through clerkships in pediatrics, internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, and surgery, they continue to learn about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases more informally.

You can't learn about vaccines until you understand the basics of immunology.
Part of a good education about vaccines is an understanding of the basics of immunology, including how B-Cells and T-Cells work.

Other things about vaccines you learn as you study independently for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which includes questions about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases.

What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Vaccines

What’s been missing in much of this education about vaccines?

Medical students don’t usually learn about anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and all of the methods the anti-vaccine movement uses to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

So, just because they aren’t familiar with Leicester, what you think an MTHFR mutation means, or the latest misinformation from Kennedy or Wakefield, that doesn’t mean they aren’t well educated about vaccines.

It does put them at a disadvantage when talking to vaccine-hesitant parents though, which is why they likely do need to learn all of these things.

Vaccine Experts

But even if your pediatrician didn’t learn as much about vaccines as you think they should have in medical school or during their residency, you know who did?

“…a new field of microbiology and immunology has evolved, called “vaccinology,” that comprises not only vaccine development but also the use of vaccines and their effects on public health.”

Stanley A Plotkin on Vaccines, Vaccination, and Vaccinology

This may come as a surprise to those who get excited every time the Geiers “publish” another study critical of vaccines, but there are actually experts in vaccinology, infectious disease, and public health.

It is these vaccine experts that research new vaccines and vaccine safety and who make recommendations about the immunization schedule.

About What Your Doctor Knows About Vaccines

Doctors are well trained about vaccines, vaccine safety, and vaccine-preventable diseases, although they might not be up-to-date on the latest anti-vaccine conspiracy theory that has you scared about vaccinating your kids.

More on What Your Doctor Knows About Vaccines