Violinist Schools Us on Vaccines (Hilarity Ensues)

Have I told you that Pedro, my partner, (not her real name) is a car mechanic? Yeah, and that makes me an expert in fixing cars. Why, I’m the best car-fixer there ever was, all because of Pedro.

If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

So why is it that Alison Peters Fujito is schooling us about vaccines? She’s a violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and there is nothing remotely associated with vaccines that she has studied, according to her page on the Orchestra’s site. The only thing I can think of is that her husband is a professor of chemistry at LaRoche College.

So what does Alison Peters Fujito say about vaccines? She wrote an “editorial” at the website of one Sharyl Attkisson, titled “Vaccine-autism link: A rebuttal to the “There is no debate” narrative.” First, now that you know that Alison Peters Fujito is a violinist, you must next know who Sharyl Attkisson is as well.

Sharyl fancies herself a journalist, much like I fancy myself an airplane pilot because I have dozens of hours of flight experience. Sharyl Attkisson once thought that her computer had been hacked by the Obama Administration, posting a video of the alleged hacking. Numerous tech blogs were able reproduce the effect she was showing and explained that it was just a stuck delete key on her keyboard. You shouldn’t be surprised that this and other conspiracy theory shenanigans got Sharyl Attkisson a little estranged from CBS. No worries, though, Sinclair Broadcasting gave her a syndicated show to push more conspiracy theories.

Like all good conspiracy nuts, Sharyl Attkisson seems to love the idea that vaccines cause autism. There is no evidence of this, of course. All the science points away from any kind of link between vaccines and autism. The more we epidemiologists, scientists, medical professionals and the like (but not violinists) look into it, we find even more evidence that such a link doesn’t exist. But that’s not enough for anti-vaccine conspiracy nuts. They need a link to exist, or they are nothing.

Such is the case with Alison Peters Fujito, it seems. She begins her editorial with a few sentences that reminded me more of Sharyl Attkisson than the person she is criticizing:

Some people are unable to see any perspective other than their own. It’s already disturbing when they insist, over and over, that opposing facts don’t exist, as though repetition can make unpleasant truths disappear. But when they resort to misdirection, deliberate pejoratives, and outright lies, there is more going on than just myopia.

It sounds spot on like this was going to be a takedown of Sharyl Attkisson. Instead, she’s trying to take down a medical doctor, vaccine expert and father of an autistic young woman:

This past week, in response to Sharyl Attkisson’s op-ed two days prior, vaccine developer Dr. Peter Hotez wrote an op-ed piece in The Hill, claiming “there is no debate” in a manner eerily reminiscent of “the Party is always right” from George Orwell’s 1984. The entire basis of Attkisson’s piece was the recent affidavit of Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, one of the country’s top pediatric neurologists, who served as the US government’s expert witness defending vaccines in the so-called “Vaccine Court.” In a stunning about-face, he testified that vaccines can cause autism in children with pre-existing mitochondrial dysfunction, and that he had communicated this to DOJ lawyers in 2007.

Ah, yes, Dr. Peter Hotez is a pharma shill because he’s worked on the development of vaccines. He is not to be trusted because of the decades of experience in vaccine science. To the conspiracy nuts, he probably doesn’t even have a daughter, let alone one who is autistic.

And that affidavit by Dr. Andrew Zimmerman? It was much ado about nothing. As Orac explains, Dr. Zimmerman himself has explained that his affidavit is being misinterpreted by “the media” (i.e. Sharyl Attkisson), and that he supports vaccination. The problem is that Dr. Zimmerman tied himself into a knot trying to push an idea that linked autism-like outcomes with mitochondrial dysfunction and mitochondrial dysfunction with infectious disease. The anti-vaccine loons took that and said, “Hey, if you can have mitochondrial dysfunction with an infection, then you surely must have it with vaccines… And if vaccines can cause mitochondrial dysfunction, they surely cause autism.”

Such are the leaps of the anti-vaccine groups. So Alison Peters Fujito continues:

Other neurologists have observed the same link. Zimmerman himself claims that there was a cover-up. Yet, Hotez never directly addressed Zimmerman’s affidavit, or mentioned mitochondrial dysfunction or its relationship to autism and vaccines.

Instead, he repeated his version of “the Party is always right,” trotted out links to vaccine industry “astroturf” blogs, and presented irrelevant and flawed studies (this one actually gave the same vaccine/thimerosal dosage to both cases and controls, while this one was shown to be in error, and this one is debunked here ), none of which address the possibility of mitochondrial dysfunction.

As a scientist, Hotez should know that there’s no such thing as a “study showing there’s no link” to anything. A study may fail to show a link, but that doesn’t mean there’s no link. Surely we learned this from the tobacco industry’s “studies.”

Dr. Hotez has written books about this. He’s published studies about this. The fact that Alison Peters Fujito is so angry about his links to blogs and “flawed studies” shows how narrow her view is, something that she criticized in her opening paragraph. The studies are flawed because, in the anti-vaccine view, all studies need to compare vaccinated and unvaccinated children. That is, they want children to be unvaccinated and see if they die or not. (Spoiler alert: They die at higher rates than vaccinated children.)

Then, with what I assume was a straight look on her face, Alison Peters Fujito mentions “astroturf” blogs. This, as most anti-vaccine information comes from blogs by non-experts… By, say, violinists at orchestras who are married to chemistry professors. (“Astroturf blogs” are Sharyl Attkisson’s words, so I’m wondering if Alison Peters Fujito is sucking up to Sharyl Attkisson, or if Sharyl Attkisson spruced Alison’s blog post a little.)

This blog, for example, is astroturf to Sharyl Attkisson. She probably thinks I’m getting a ton of cash for writing this. (Fifty cents per word, actually… In Colombian pesos.)

Alison Peters Fujito continues:

Yet that’s exactly what Hotez did, claiming “clinical studies with over one million children enrolled, showing there’s no link between vaccines and autism,” [bolding mine] linking only a single, severely-flawed meta-analysis (with no children enrolled) of older studies that looked at either one ingredient (thimerosal) or one vaccine (MMR)

The conclusion of that meta-analysis is based in part on studies rejected by the Institute of Medicine as too flawed to be considered for their 2012 report on the vaccines/autism link. Regardless, none of those studies considered the possibility of mitochondrial dysfunction.

Despite Hotez’s reference to “at least 99 autism genes,” no specific genes are known to cause autism. In fact, the study he linked does not identify genes that cause autism, but merely notes some frequency of some de novo variants among some individuals with autism.

Dr. Hotez seems to forget that correlation does not equal causation.

I like how Alison Peters Fujito, violinist, has determined that studies cannot show no association but only fail to show an association. I giggle at the thought of her holding her violin and sitting in an epidemiology class, arguing that all the evidence in the world can only “fail to show an association.” That’s not how it works, Carol… I mean, Alison.

Epidemiological studies can be done in a way that you can say with confidence that one thing is not associated with the other, including causal association, not just correlation. These studies can be observational or experimental, and both types have been done to look at autism and vaccines.

We, scientists (not violinists), have looked at newborns and followed them through their childhood. We then look at the ones eventually diagnosed with autism and those who are deemed neurotypical. We then compare their vaccination status, which vaccines they’ve received, and whether or not there are confounding factors involved. Again, spoiler alert, there is no association between vaccines and autism.

We, scientists (not violinists), have looked at autistic children and neurotypical children and gone backwards through their medical histories. There are no differences in vaccination rates, controlling for other factors like having anti-vaccine parents. There’s just nothing different as far as vaccination is concerned between autistic children and neurotypical children, no matter what Sharyl Attkisson and Alison Peters Fujito want you to believe.

Alison Peters Fujito finishes her blog post (in case you thought it was a published piece of research, like the ones Dr. Hotez has actually written in peer-reviewed journals) with a misrepresentation of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights:

The right to decline an unwanted medical intervention, free from coercion, is, in fact, codified in Article 6 (Consent) of UNESCO’s 2005 Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights:

Any preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information. The consent should, where appropriate, be express and may be withdrawn by the person concerned at any time and for any reason without disadvantage or prejudice. (bolding mine)

Please note section 3 of the same Article, which protects us all from the Orwellian principles Hotez seems to be espousing:

In no case should a collective community agreement or the consent of a community leader or other authority substitute for an individual’s informed consent.

We should all be troubled by scientists, doctors, or any industry insider so enraged by our reluctance to buy what they’re selling, they try to censor all conversation that disagrees with their sales pitch.

That’s not science, it’s not good medicine, and it’s deceptive.

What is deceptive is that Alison Peters Fujito is not giving you the full idea of what those passages mean. There is consent and there is assent. Consent comes into play if you’re an adult in full use of all your mental capabilities. Then you as an individual can make the choice of whether or not you want a medical procedure to be performed on you. You can weigh the risks and benefits to yourself.

But what if you’re a child? Can a newborn baby weight the risks of not vaccinating and understand that those risks far outweigh the risks of vaccinating? Of course not. It’s up to the parents to make that decision. Children need to assent to the better judgment of the adults caring for them. We, as a society, are also responsible for those children, and that is why the courts — and reasonable people — are in agreement that children can and should be removed from the care of irresponsible parents.

So, yes, you can say that you don’t want a vaccine for yourself, but you are mistaken if you decide that a child is “yours” (as in your property) and that you have the right to place that child in danger. You don’t, and no human rights declaration in the world would ever agree with you. In fact, children have a universal human right to be healthy, and that health comes with vaccination.

It’s not up for debate. Vaccines work. Vaccines save lives. The only people who don’t think so rely on their “instincts” and “feelings,” or on the misinformation shared by people like Sharyl Attkisson and Alison Peters Fujito. Absent vaccines, I think these two would find a way to argue that the Earth is flat, and that you have a right to ignore things disappearing over the horizon.

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Tricky Larry Is at It Again

The Kid seems mad because a study being cited by CDC as evidence that vaccines do not cause autism is apparently too complex for him to understand. The study in question is a meta-analysis of several studies on the effects of vaccination on children. A meta-analysis takes different studies and analyzes their findings together to form a bigger pool of subjects, exposures and outcomes.

Larry The Kid seems angry because, according to him, the study double-dips into the same study population. Check out the image he posted:

Now, check out his argument against it:

“In “Vaccines are not associated with autism: an evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies,” the authors estimated the total number of children in the cohort studies by adding up the samples of each study. The problem is that the two largest studies used mostly the same children, as the first table in the meta-analysis makes clear.

Here is one study population description:

All children born in Denmark from January 1990 until December 1996

Here is another:

All children born in Denmark from January 1991 through December 1998

Every child born in Denmark from January 1991 to December 1996 was double-counted. As a result, the authors calculated the total children who participated in all five studies as numbering 1,256,407.

That number is completely bogus. It is not even possible to calculate an estimate of the number of children who participated in either Danish study by reviewing the published manuscripts. Not surprisingly, the authors’ grasp of the material they analyzed reflects their grasp of the vaccine issue overall.”

The number is not “bogus” if you look at two things. First, look at the interventions. In one study, the intervention was giving a thimerosal-containing vaccine versus a vaccine without thimerosal. In the other study, the intervention was vaccination at 15 months with the MMR vaccine.

Second, look at the protocol they used for including studies into the meta analysis. They used the PRIMSA guidelines for meta analyses. It’s not like they willy-nilly added these two studies in just because.

On the surface, it may seem like The Kid does raise an interesting argument in that the children born between January 1991 and 1996 are counted twice from the two studies. Epidemiologically speaking, though, there’s nothing wrong with this. That group of children count twice because they contributed information to two studies.

Look at it this way. If we want to know whether or not there is an association between aspirin and reduced risk of heart attacks, and we also want to know if there is an association between a low-fat diet and reduced risk of heart. Can we study you, for both of those interventions (aspirin and low-fat diet) and that one outcome (reduced risk of heart attacks)? Absolutely. Are we double-counting you? Yes, from a non-epidemiological point of view, and no, from an epidemiological point of view. As long as we account for the interactions between the two exposures (if any) in the analysis, this is not a problem.

The Kid should know this. After all, he boasts about his MPH in epidemiology from the George Washington University. He’s called himself an “epidemiologist.” (He’s not, in our opinion, just like someone with an MD is not a physician if all they do is sit at their parent’s expensive home in Florida and rage against feminism without actually treating a single patient.) But, time and again, he writes things that make us question whether or not he paid attention to anything in the basic epidemiology courses.

But his behavior regarding vaccines follows the anti-vaccine playbook very closely. He tries to seed doubt in the safety and efficacy of vaccines at every possible opportunity. And he makes simple things into big deals to try and push the anti-vaccine agenda.

This Guy Lies About Vaccines Without Even Blinking

Maybe he doesn’t blink because it’s a picture, but still..

Dr. Steven Lantier, an anesthesiologist, has penned an opinion piece for The Oklahoman, and, man, does it have some woozies in there.

You can read the whole thing here, but let me just show you one paragraph that should be enough to make you scratch your head…

“There is actually not much science behind “herd immunity.” The vaccine rates in the United States for Hepatitis A (9 percent), Hepatitis B (24.5 percent), pneumococcal (20.4 percent) and influenza (43.2 percent) are many times below their threshold, yet we haven’t had outbreaks of these diseases for decades now. Actually, vaccines often have the opposite effect. Not only can they — and often do — make people sick, it is well documented that vaccinated persons have passed on to others the same virus they were being protected from.”

Jesus Christ, where to begin?

“…(Y)et we haven’t had outbreaks of these diseases for decades now.” Oh, really? When it comes to Hepatitis A: We have had three in the last two years, according to CDC. When it comes to Hepatitis B: There are many, according to CDC. And those are just in healthcare. 

And, influenza… WE HAVE YEARLY EPIDEMICS. Hence, “THE GODDAMNED FLU SEASON.”

Who gave this guy his medical degree? What kind of Mickey Mouse institution taught him medicine?

I’m too mad to write anything else. That up there should be enough. Go to hell, Dr. Lantier, and say hello to Art Briles while you’re down there.

The Anti-Vaccine Zealot’s Endgame

I’ve met a lot of anti-vaccine people in my life and in my lines of work. Like any other group of people, anti-vaccine people span a wide range of personalities, behaviors and other traits. They are far from being a monolith, but they do share a lot of common characteristics. Some characteristics are good, like caring about their children or working hard in their professions. Other characteristics just plain scare and confuse me.

Yeah, they may care about their children, but they’re willing to lie and bully other people and, thus, set a bad example for their children on how civil discourse should be carried out on topics that are of importance to everyone. Others go as far as to compare their children to animals or say that their children are “lost” or “dead” while the child is right there next to them. They confuse autism or any other developmental delay or intellectual disability with being completely not there. That is, the child hears and in many cases understand their statements.

I can only imagine being that young and wondering why your own parent is calling you a mistake, a dead person, or an animal of some sort (outside of terms of endearment, like “my little bear,” of course).

Then there is the outright hatred the anti-vaccine zealots direct at people they see as their enemies. There’s the death threats and the threats of violence to the loved ones of people who work in public health, medicine, science or something even remotely related to vaccines. They’ll show up in groups to talks by vaccine scientists and spew all sorts of angry rhetoric, sometimes with a lot of spittle, sometimes with hoarse throats from all their yelling.

But what, exactly, is their endgame? In chess, we know that we need to capture the King, getting through all the other pieces while anticipating your opponent’s every move. In football, you get the ball from one end to the other, yards at a time. In baseball, you have to put the ball in play and run around the bases, all within the limits of the 9 innings of play.

That is, there are rules of engagement for those activities and sports. Heck, one could argue that even war has some sort of an endpoint, despite the recent examples of the war on terror. So what are anti-vaccine people aiming for? When will they be happy enough that they stop being so goddamned evil?

Ever since Jenner came up with the first vaccine back in the late 1700s, anti-vaccine organizations and people have lost their collective minds at the prospect of immunization. They created “leagues” and “brigades” to organize themselves against laws and other requirements for vaccination. They said that the smallpox vaccine — made from the cowpox virus — would turn you into a cow, or any other sort of animal.

They lied as much back then as they do today, except that today they have the weapons of mass media and social media to spread those lies farther and faster than ever before. They organize through electronic means and summon up dozens of their like-minded trolls to go to presentations by vaccine scientists and spread even more lies and misinformation. Or they create anonymous or pseudonymous blogs to seed fear and distrust of science in their followers.

And for what?

Do they really think that vaccines will be outlawed or not used anymore? Even if, somehow, vaccine laws are reversed and children are not required to be vaccinated, the parents of those children will still listen to the advice of their physicians and get their children vaccinated. And, if they don’t and vaccine-preventable diseases make a big comeback, the ensuing wave of disease and death would certainly make people think twice about their decision to forgo vaccination.

That’s actually happening right now in Italy after the populist and somewhat anti-vaccine government saw that measles is out of control.

This is why I and others wonder if anti-vaccine people know that they will be dead and long forgotten and vaccines will still be a thing. After all, no one remembers the leader of the first anti-vaccine group, but we all remember Jenner. So is it worth it to be so goddamned angry about vaccines all the time? Is it worth it to be so anti-science and to endanger so many lives by scaring parents away from vaccinating their children?

Apparently, to far too many people it is worth it, and they will continue to do their worst… Which suits me just fine. It’s job security for me. It makes me stronger. It gives me purpose. But it all would be just a little bit easier if they had a clear mission statement, something they’re working toward and something we scientists could focus on preventing.

Instead, we get idiotic showmen making idiotic documentaries with idiotic talking heads who think they know better. We get fluff. We get marshmallow. We never get raw meat to sick our teeth into, so to speak.

Photo by Robert Whitehead on Visualhunt.com / CC BY

Anti-Vaccine People Are Nuts, and Here’s Proof

ZDogg, MD, (real name “Zubin Damania“) an online celebrity and physician who talks about healthcare issues, recently interviewed Dr. Paul Offit, a pediatrician and vaccine developer. You can hear in the video below how nuts anti-vaccine zealots are. They pounded and pounded and screamed from behind a window to try and interrupt the interview. They really hate Dr. Offit that much, and they’re really crazy enough to think that pounding on windows and screaming like they did is something that is acceptable.

The video is 1 hour and 10 minutes long. The pounding on the windows starts at around 3 minutes 25 seconds in and goes on for a long time while ZDogg and Dr. Offit just ignore them…

 

Barb Loe Fischer Is Using Truisms to Get You to Not Vaccinate

Yeah, yeah. I don’t name people by name, but this one deserves to. Barbara Loe Fischer is one of the architects behind the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act back in the 1980’s. When the whole thing backfired on her anti-vaccine views, because so many cases which required only 50% plus a feather of evidence and not a preponderance of evidence didn’t show vaccine injuries whatsoever, she and her friends became the leading advocates of trying to go back to a system where the lawyers get all the money and the parents who are led to believe their children were injured by vaccines are left holding the bag.

And the bag is empty, by the way.

Before I go any further, let me explain to you a bit of logic. Did you know that antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria are most often seen in people who take antibiotics? This is because the antibiotics take out the antibiotic-susceptible bacteria, so all that is left for them to catch are the resistant strains. Makes sense, right?

Well, not if you’re an anti-vaccine zealot. In antivax world, the antibiotics are what causes the resistant strains to be identified in the people who take them. In antivax world, people shouldn’t take antibiotics and that will remedy the whole thing. Or, at least, that’s what I get from this idiotic image that Barbara posted on her Twitter account:

nvic_Meme

See the lapse in logic? Of course vaccinated persons are going to have the vaccine-resistant strains more often… BECAUSE THEY DON’T GET THE VACCINE-SUSCEPTIBLE STRAIN. And, because of this flawed logic, Barbara and the National Vaccine disInformation Centre are quick to tell you that the pertussis vaccine is bad. This is typical behavior for anti-vaccine nuts. They conflate an association with a causation.

Now, notice that they don’t tell you the actual numbers. More often? Does that mean one more case? Two more? 10%? 100% more? Nope, they just tease you with a number in order to get you to look. If they spread this lie enough, they might get one person to believe them and avoid getting vaccinated… Which is one person too many.

Our Military Families Deserve Better Than Dr. Bob Sears

You remember Dr. Bob Sears? He is one of our Douchebags of the Year, and, hence, one of our Douchebags Emerit-Ass. He’s been put on probation by the California Medical Board for, according to the LA Times:

“Sears found himself in hot water because, according to the medical board, he wrote a vaccine exemption for a young boy without obtaining even basic medical information, such as the child’s history of vaccines. He took the boy’s mother at her word when she said her son lost urinary function and went limp in response to previous immunizations, according to the filing.”

Remember that this is the same Dr. Bob Sears who denied ever talking to a writer about a measles outbreak being started by one of his patients, when there were recordings of the conversation as part of Seth Mnookin writing a book. The same Dr. Bob Sears who admitted to just making up his “alternative vaccine schedule” without any science. I mean, seriously, why haven’t we re-nominated him to be Douchebag of the Year again?

As it turns out, Tricare, the health insurance that handles healthcare payments for military members and their families (if they go outside the VA system), doesn’t like physicians who run afoul of the standard of care. And we don’t blame them. Would you spend money on someone who’s so seemingly anti-vaccine? (And that wasn’t the only thing Dr. Bob Sears did that got him in trouble.)

Of course you wouldn’t.

We’re guessing that Dr. Bob Sears doesn’t have a personal mental health counselor because it seems that he takes to Facebook to work things out in his head, and get a lot of loving attention from his anti-vaccine followers. And that’s just what he did when Tricare decided to not pay for his care anymore.

Screenshot 2018-10-05 19.24.19

Somebody call the whaaaaaaaambulance!

You know what? Good! Military families already sacrifice enough without this douchebag placing them at risk of vaccine-preventable infections just by having them in his waiting room. Physicians like Dr. Bob Sears who flaunt making up vaccine recommendations, give out unjustified vaccine exemptions, fail to properly assess the health status of a child after said child gets hit by a hammer, and acts like such a pompous douche do not deserve the privilege to serve as physicians to anyone, let alone children of military parents.

“With Love and Prayers”? People of real Faith don’t lie, Dr. Bob Sears.

Douchebags do.