Fifteen Children in South Sudan Die During Vaccine Campaign

The Associated Press is reporting that 15 children have died as a result of a vaccination campaign in South Sudan. According to the report:

“Fifteen young children have died in a botched measles vaccination campaign that saw people as young as 12 years old administering the vaccines, South Sudan’s government announced Friday.

The United Nations said the children died of “severe sepsis/toxicity” from the contaminated vaccine, and the health ministry blamed the deaths on human error. One syringe was used for all the children during the four-day campaign, and the vaccine was stored without refrigeration the entire time.”

So let’s reemphasize the meaningful facts before the anti-vaccine liars get a hold of these news and start to use them to attack the vaccination campaigns here in the United States.

First, South Sudan has been embroiled in a civil war for quite a while now. They used to be part of Sudan, but broke off and became independent in 2011. The continuing state of war, along with periodic famines, have presented quite a challenge to deliver food, medicine, clean water, and other supplies. To top it off, measles has been on the increase, further putting a burden on the lives of the people there. (And, by extension, the lives of Sudanese refugees the world over as refugees go back to see family and take measles back to their host countries.)

Second, 12 year-old children should not be administering vaccines. Yes, there is a shortage of trained professionals to administer vaccines because of the situation on the ground. But it goes without saying that this was a huge mistake. There are many things that can go wrong — and apparently did — during the administration of a vaccine, and I’m sure 12 year-old children are not trained to handle it.

Third, even with the preservative thimerosal in it (which the MMR vaccine does not have, as it is a live-virus vaccine), vaccines can still become contaminated over the course of several days being open and not in proper storage conditions. Furthermore, needles can collect pathogens from all over the place, including people. They probably passed on those pathogens from person to person, causing all of this.

“The civil war has killed tens of thousands and sent more than 1.8 million people fleeing the country, creating the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

In 2016, South Sudan had at least 2,294 measles cases and 28 people died, according to U.N. data. So far this year, at least one person has died and 665 people have been infected.”

So, when the anti-vaccine jerks tell you that it was the vaccine that killed these children, make sure to fire back with facts.

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Peter Doshi is at it again with (anti?) vaccine article (updated)

Remember Peter Doshi? The researcher whose shocking (it isn’t) opinion pieces are used by anti-vaccine zealots almost on a yearly basis? The researcher who presented at an anti-vaccine conference hosted by the notoriously misnamed National Vaccine Information Center? Yeah, you remember. Well, he’s back.

This time, he is apparently outraged that there is a glitch in how certain browsers handle the web address for the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System:

“For over three weeks, the website of the US government Vaccination Adverse Reporting System (VAERS) has been inaccessible to most users. The website address, http://www.vaers.hhs.gov, is printed on the vaccine information statements (VISs), short documents listing the benefits and risks of vaccines that are required by law to be distributed with every vaccine dose administered in the US.1

But the website link leads anybody using the web browsers Chrome, Firefox, and some versions of Internet Explorer to a warning page. “Your connection is not private,” it says in large font on my screen (fig 1⇓). “Attackers might be trying to steal your information from http://www.vaers.hhs.gov (for example, passwords, messages, or credit cards).” The only browser that seems to consistently connect properly is Safari, used by only around a quarter of people accessing government sites.2”

See, you should be using Apple products. He continues:

“I can’t speak for others, but I suspect most people will respond to such a warning by closing their browser and moving along. The adverse event will go unreported. Few will realize that connecting to vaers.hhs.gov (that is, dropping the “www.”) takes you to the intended website.”

You don’t say? People who have had an adverse event, or their healthcare providers, will just shrug their shoulders and say, “screw it”? But then he buries the lede:

“Technically, the website is not down. It is just misconfigured such that the website address advertised to millions is not working, and hasn’t been working for at least three weeks.”

So what did Peter Doshi, PhD, do? Did he call CDC to tell them? Did he research the glitch to see why it’s happening? Did he know that there are other ways to report to VAERS beyond online? He apparently just shot off an email and then waited (probably on a gold-lined throne, as I hear they pay well at the BMJ) for a response:

“It’s not known how long this problem has been going on, but I informed the US Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the VAERS program, on 25 April. After not hearing back, I sent another email on 2 May. I then received a call from Elisa (she wouldn’t provide her last name out of a concern for confidentiality), who said the information technology staff were working on it. Presumably they’re still working on it as the problem isn’t fixed.”

Does Peter Doshi, PhD, expect CDC to get on the phone with Mozilla, Google and Microsoft to fix this? Because it’s really their problem. (As he himself wrote, the Safari browser, created and maintained by Apple, deals with the web address just fine.)

I’ve emailed Peter Doshi, PhD, to congratulate him on this new little nugget he’s given the anti-vaccine nuts. They love it when someone with a doctoral-level education sees any issue, no matter how small, with the system of immunizations in the United States and abroad. See, when someone sees things your way, and when that person is highly educated and holds a position at a prestigious journal, then your views (no matter how skewed) are valid. The horrible things in your imagination become a little more real.

Update! A reader pointed something out to us that bears repeating:

“The problem is the SSL certificate was generated for vaers.hhs.gov but he is going to http://www.vaers.hhs.gov.

Because of this mismatch, the browser is rejecting it. HHS needs a certificate that covers both vaers.hhs.gov and http://www.vaers.hhs.gov. It is indeed a misconfiguration but it’s relatively minor.

The government is making a sincere effort to make sure their web sites are more secure, but sometimes they mess up. Most users will

SSL certificates facilitate encryption of traffic between the user and web site. They also allow users to verify that they are connected to the real web site, rather than a hacker’s web site. The mismatch is causing the browser to think that the user is not going to the genuine site.”

Want to kill your employment chances?

Imagine that you’re not a wealthy, privileged “kid.” Imagine you’re just a regular Joe, or Jane. Imagine that you are going into a job interview and the people interviewing you have looked you up online to see what you’ve been up to. Are you at all concerned with what they’ll find?

I mean, yeah, they’ll probably see those pictures of you from college or high school, the ones where you’re acting the fool and making an ass out of yourself. They probably will find that angry blog post you wrote about your girlfriend. But will they find anything that will prevent you from getting the job?

If you’re a self-professed epidemiologist, and you want to get a job as an epidemiologist, do you think it’s a good idea to spew anti-vaccine, anti-science nonsense? Never mind the misogyny and racism, or the xenophobic language, but what about the anti-vaccine nonsense?

Would you hire someone as an epidemiologist if they said something like this?

“How is it that so many women march on Washington against something the president said on a hot mic 12 years ago, but not against the mandating of a vaccination that causes ovarian failure, paralysis and death? While the drug company Merck bought off feminists to lobby for the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, thousands of women and girls have been killed, paralyzed or sterilized as result of its side-effects.

All that was done in the name of preventing a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer, even though early screening remains far-and-away the most effective prevention. Meanwhile, the vaccine offers a limited duration of immunity and virtual uncertainty that any risk of cervical cancer is reduced.

InfoWars and Daily Mail have more on the story.”

InfoWars? Daily Mail? Those are the source of your scientific information on the HPV vaccine? Jesus H. Christ. There is no credible evidence that the HPV vaccine causes “ovarian failure, paralysis and death,” but there is plenty of evidence that it prevents cancer.

Would you employ someone in an office with people from all sorts of backgrounds if they wrote this?

“That autistic women are much more likely to be dykes is not a huge surprise in light of how Asperger Syndrome has an even more disproportionately higher male-female ratio than the autism spectrum as a whole. This fact is likely due to Asperger’s diagnostic criteria restricting its diagnosis to people with average or above-average IQs. Men vastly outnumber women in above-average intelligence.”

Or this?

“Self-styled victims come in many other forms of identity-defined politics: man-hating feminists, cop-killing Black Lives Matter terrorists, illegal immigrants who think they are entitled to amnesty and Muslims who complain about “Islamophobia” and deny that Islam has anything to do with Islamic terrorist attacks.”

Or this?

“There are third-wave feminists who exaggerate sexual assault statistics, who fabricate claims that men have higher wages than women and who advocate the killing of all white men. There is the Black Lives Matter movement which has proven itself to be a form of social justice cancer similar to feminism – advocating racially segregated dormitories and the murder of police officers (two of whom were actually murdered in New York City by a BLM supporter).”

Yeah, I didn’t think so. Lucky us this kid will never see the inside of an office at a health department or work in any capacity to set policy. Unlucky for us that he has the wealth from his family to allow him to continue spewing this anger and hate for a while instead of flipping burgers at a local burger joint.

Rest in peace, Dan Olmsted

Dan Olmsted, one of the editors of Age of Autism (the blog full of lies and misrepresentations, and a near-psychotic obsession with trying to link vaccines and conspiracies to anything that happens in the world) has passed away. There must always be honor in the battlefield of ideas, especially from those of us who fight with facts and evidence in our arsenal. So, please, do not celebrate his death. Be respectful of the people who love him and will be heartbroken at his passing.

Rest in peace, Dan Olmsted.

Did you miss me?

It would be a world-class understatement to tell you that I’ve been busy lately. I’ve traveled from one side of the planet to the other and back. I’ve been chasing viruses and bacteria wherever that three-lettered health organization has needed me, and I’m exhausted. So I’m back home to recoup before heading out into the cruel, cruel world again as the freelance epidemiologist I’ve become.

Before I go sip on some tea and watch a movie or two on HBO, I wanted to tell you that the Zika outbreak in the Caribbean seems to be waning. Don’t be fooled, however. The mosquitoes are there, and so are the people. Sexual transmission is likely ongoing, so this lull in activity is only temporary. Zika will come back soon enough, and it’s going to make a mess of things. Just wait until it gets hot in the South.

When that happens, we’re going to have ourselves a good, old-fashioned, all-American outbreak. You know the type? Where politicians don’t know what to do and only do the wrong thing? Especially with Trump in the White House. I’m getting the popcorn ready.

Next time, I’ll tell you all about how the new territorial epidemiologist of a US Territory doesn’t believe Zika is a thing. (I wish I was joking.)

Laugh it up, jerks. Laugh it up.

I used to have a boss who was well into his 70s when he decided to retire. He had worked at the health department where I was just a young number-cruncher longer than I had been alive. He joked about starting to work as a public health inspector in the Johnson Administration. Slowly and steadily, he moved up the ranks to becoming the director of a very busy infectious diseases unit at a very busy health department.

He was there in 1976 when Legionnaires’ Disease appeared. He told me about being on a call with people in the White House and how they wanted something, anything done, and done immediately. That same year, the swine flu fiasco happened, throwing the flu vaccine program into disarray. And he was at his highest position when all the crazy was unleashed over “Vaccine Roulette” and the resulting anti-vaccine nonsense.

He survived all that, and more. From one administration at the federal and state levels to another. His bosses came and went. The things they stood for changed and changed, and tragedies happened. And he was still there in his old age, fighting the good fight.

As you might have guessed, anti-vaccine zealots from The Kid to the anti-Semitic jerks at Age of Autism are celebrating the Trump victory since Trump has questioned vaccines and has embraced certain anti-science people. Apparently, Andrew Jeremy Wakefield once posed for a picture a few feet away from Trump, so Trump is now likely to ban all vaccines everywhere for all time. Makes sense, right?

Much like their knowledge of vaccines, anti-vaccine activists show an ignorance of how public health works in America. The vaccine advisory committee is not made up of political appointees or partisans. It’s made up of experts on the subject matter. They recommend what vaccines to give to what age groups, and the recommendations are followed (or not) at the state and local level. In order to shut down all vaccines everywhere forever, anti-vaccine-obsessed people would need to convince all states and territories that the Earth is flat, or something just as ludicrous.

Could a Trump Administration pull the plug on funding? Yeah, maybe, but we’ve done a lot more with a lot less. (That’s what my old boss used to tell us stories about. One year, they had their budget cut by 70%, and they still managed to expand their services year after year, even if just a little bit.) See, unlike anti-vaccine activists, we in public health are not in it for the money. We don’t travel to far-away and very dangerous places for money. We are okay with being held at gunpoint when something gets lost in translation at a checkpoint in a banana republic because we know we’re there to serve, and, frankly, dying for what we do is a badge of honor. We’d become immortal if we ever die in the service of public health.

So, yeah, laugh it up, jerks. Write all your little blog posts about how beautiful it will be to live in a Trump-led world. (Spoiler Alert: He’s not leading anyone. He’s not a leader. It’s not some title you are given.) We will continue to vaccinate tomorrow, next year, and next century. We might stumble and fall here and there, yes. But, just when you celebrate at the thought of burying us, you will weep when you realize we’re seeds… When you realize what we’ve survived and, thus, what has made us stronger.

You don’t want no change

In my line of work, you have to be able to survive different levels and incarnations of bureaucracies. People at the top will come and go at the whim of the electorate, or the whims of those who fund elections. But people like us, people at the bottom, will always be around. We will always be the ones to clean up the messes of the people at the top.

Take for example Zika in Puerto Rico. We saw that coming since it showed up in Brazil last year. When a friend of mine went to Colombia, I told him to watch for it. Reports were coming in that Zika had arrived in Brazil, but no one was listening. (No one at the top, that is.) While my friend was chasing Chikungunya, I was getting ready to be deployed to Brazil. However, at the last minute, because the people upstairs are that way, I ended up helping with MERS in Seoul instead.

So I guess I am in fact susceptible to some of the whims of some of the people upstairs. Funny that. Anyway, we saw Zika coming and no one did much of anything. Some of us begged and pleaded to be sent to the island to help them prepare. Their health department was in shambles, and we knew it. We desperately kept asking for a deployment. We were even willing to stay with host families to cut down on the cost. But, because Zika funding was a political hot potato, no one did anything.

And here we are. The first case of microcephaly in a child has been reported in Puerto Rico, and it is probably not going to be the only one. The eggheads in mathematical modeling tell us that thousands of women will be infected. The epidemiologists on the ground are seeing it. And those of us who have dealt with infectious disease outbreaks before know that it’s going to get much worse before it gets better, especially since we couldn’t do anything early to at least ameliorate the outcomes.

Thing is, this is the way things have always been. Politicians have always played politics with other peoples’ lives. They are willing to tolerate the deaths (or lifetime of disability) of people so long as they keep their power and keep pushing for the weird ideal in their head. (Their version of freedom, their version of justice, and their version of the American Way.) And we, the people, we are sort of okay with that because we’re creatures of comfort.

If I told you that you had to go grab a gun and head out to fight an invading army, you (especially you Americans) would probably freak out. Who would take care of your house while you were gone? Who’d feed your pets? What about your kids? Your lawn? Very few of you would be willing to let it all go to go fight, or to go do what needs to be done to make things better.

That’s why I could care less if Clinton or Trump win. (Sure, Trump will probably take us into a nuclear holocaust-type situation, but we’ll deal with that when we get to it.) They’re not going to change things because we won’t let them. We’ll complain if gasoline prices get high, and they’ll do what they need to to do bring those prices down lest we don’t vote for them in the next election. The same if enough of us don’t have a job, or if our homes are not worth as much as we want them to be worth.

All of this assumes that the next POTUS doesn’t become a despotic ruler. Even then, they have to keep someone happy or risk losing control:

So I don’t believe you when you say that you want change. If you think about it, Obama didn’t change things much compared to Bush Jr. Things didn’t change that much from Clinton to Bush Jr. And it wasn’t a quantum leap from Reagan to Bush Sr. to Clinton. All change has been gradual, slow, and done in such a way as to keep you comfortable and keep you productive enough for that tax money to flow.

You don’t want no change. You want everything to be status quo for as long as possible, and that’s why we have these public health “emergencies” instead of public health “problems.” We saw Zika coming from miles away, but it was uncomfortable to tell people not to travel to those nice, warm places to have some fun. It was uncomfortable to tell people there not to have sex. (The horror!) And here we are.

Whoever you vote for on November 8 (or 28th), know that you are not voting for change. You’re voting to keep the status quo as you see it. Democrats will vote for Democrats. Republicans will vote for Republicans. Tea Partiers will vote for psychopaths. And undecideds will vote for whomever seems to be the closest to keeping things the way they are, or the way they used to be when things were best.