Denialism pure and simple (UPDATED)

When I was in college, I took a course on military science. This course talked about the scientific discoveries we have made through war. By trying to kill each other off in a simpler manner, we’ve discovered a lot, from a scientific point of view. During that course, we spent about three weeks focuses completely on the Nazi medical experiments. If you haven’t heard the story, I invite you to go to the Holocaust Museum in DC and take a look at their exhibits. In essence, Nazi medical “researchers” conducted unethical experiments on humans (concentration camp prisoners, prisoners of war, etc.). We discussed for three or four classes whether or not we — the then future scientists — should use any of the knowledge gained from those experiments in order to expand science.

I won’t bore you with the philosophical and ethical discussions that erupted then. No, I will entertain you with the story of the one guy in class who decided that he was going debunk the “myth” of the Holocaust. Actually, it’s a short story; he was kicked out of class at the discretion of the professor. The guy actually wanted to argue with our professor, a Holocaust survivor.

I laughed out loud. That fool of a student.

But it does lead to an interesting question: How do you know what is true to be the truth? How do we know that the Holocaust really did happen? What evidence for and against can we believe?

Of course, this is a non-starter for many people who are reasonable and understand the concepts of historical evidence. There were thousands upon thousands of first-hand accounts of what happened in Nazi-occupied Europe. There are movies and records kept by the Nazis themselves. There are movies and documents from Allied Forces that liberated the concentration camps. In short, the Holocaust happened. There is no doubt about it.

Yet there are those who walk on this earth and deny that the Holocaust happened. Whether or not they believe that it happened is between them and their god. They go around telling everyone they can that it didn’t happen, that’s is a Jewish conspiracy, or that the Holocaust is a misrepresentation of what really happened. (I’m sure it was nothing but kittens and puppies in Auschwitz.)

Then there are those Holocaust deniers who also deny that the HIV virus causes AIDS. Even better, some of them deny that HIV even exists. They say that it’s all an attempt from the pharmaceutical industry to bleed the public dry through the sale of laboratory tests and unnecessary drugs. (I guess all of those dead people in Africa and elsewhere died of kitten and puppy overdoses.)

There is a particularly interesting person out there who goes by the moniker of “Putin Reloaded“. PR is interesting because there is no conspiracy theory that he doesn’t like. For example, this is what he has to say about HIV not being the cause for AIDS:

Antibody tests are not valid surrogates of virus detection, for all antibodies are heterophile and promiscuous. 

If you don’t know what those words mean look it up! 

About 30% of people have at least one “hiv” antibody in their blood, that’s how absurd the assumption is: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2230270 Frequency of indeterminate western blot tests in healthy adults at low risk for human immunodeficiency virus infection. ” 32% (low risk controls) had indeterminate Western blot tests, most of which demonstrated a single band of lowintensity. The most common bands were p24 (47%), GAG p17 p55 (34%), and POL p31 p66 (36%); envelope bands were unusual (gp41, 2%; gp120, 2%).” Confirmed by: http://elcid.demon.nl/1995_Western_blot_35pc_of_donors_have_1_band_at_least.png Antibodies to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV-1) in Autoimmune Diseases. ” 126 blood donors as a control group…At least one band was shown on immunoblotting in 26% of patients with autoimmune diseases and 35% of controls. ” 

So HIV tests are basically tools to fool perfectly healthy individuals into believing they’re carriers of a deadly virus and put them on deadly drugs. A self-fulfilled prophecy.

Oh, really? When PR is confronted with questions about PCR and viral cultures being used to confirm antibody tests, he gets really defensive and claims that one is personally attacking him.

PR is also into Holocaust denial, as I stated before:

“Recall that the Holocaust is an unfalsifiable theory, ie, it is impossible to refute because it is expressly prohibited by law in many European countries. Therefore, the Jewish Holocaust is not a historical fact but a legend that it takes an act of faith to believe.”

(Thanks to Pedro [not her real name] for the translation.)

So why am I writing about PR?

I’m writing about PR because he is exactly the kind of person that needs to be countered at all possible opportunities. In your private life (e.g. at work, in your family) and in your public life (e.g. out with friends) you must counter the ramblings of people who deny historical facts and scientific evidence. I’d advice you to be gentle and respectful, but you know me better than that by now.

To the AIDS denier, you must explain to anyone within earshot of that AIDS denier that we know that HIV causes AIDS because the grand majority of people who are infected with HIV go on to develop AIDS if they are not treated. They also go on to die. We know that the grand majority of people with AIDS have HIV infection. We know that the virus multiplies inside of immune cells, thus killing the immune system and allowing for opportunistic infections. Plenty of us have held the hand of a dying AIDS patient. Are there infected people who do not develop AIDS? Yes. Are there people who develop AIDS but were not infected with HIV? Yes. AIDS is a collection of diseases and conditions, a syndrome. But we see it in people with HIV infection for the most part (almost 100%).

The AIDS denier will try to use rare occurrences as clear evidence of their point. Don’t let them.

Likewise, the Holocaust denier will say that there were no extermination camps in Germany during the Nazi regime. This is true. The extermination camps were outside the country of Germany and in Nazi-occupied Europe. Here’s a map. They will also tell you that Hitler never signed an order to exterminate 6 million Jews and another 6 million “undesirables”. For that, read this.

In other words, stand up to the bigots, the denialists. Tell them and anyone around them why, how, when, and where they are wrong. Be ready to present the evidence, like radioactive decay to young Earth creationists, the physics of water vapor to those who believe that airplanes are dropping chemicals in contrails, or simple epidemiology to those who believe vaccines cause autism. It is important that we do this because they can do a lot of damage with their ideas.

A lot of damage.

**** UPDATE ****

The troll decided to show up in the comments section. Let me make this clear to you, Mr. PR, this is not your blog. This is not your platform to spread more antisemitism, misogyny  and AIDS denialism. Your comments are not accepted, and they will be deleted. (What’s that about misogyny  Mr. PR has told a group of female scientists that women naturally lack initiative and need father figures to guide them and tell them what to do next.)

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Oh, ye who have ears and yet won’t listen

There is a hilarious thread going on on Facebook right now between an anti-vaxer and a pro-vaxer. (Yes, I checked in with a few comments and explanations, but mine are just a small fraction of the comments.) Go over and check it out before it gets deleted by the anti-vaxer.

If you don’t want to go over and read, I’ll give you the long and short of it:

The anti-vaxer calls herself “Vaccine Skeptic Society” and a “non-profit organization”. Mind you, she is just one person, an at-home medical coder (per some conversations of hers on Facebook), and someone who is totally ignorant of science. Okay, maybe not totally ignorant, but she does come off as knowing nothing, absolutely nothing about science.

(She should also be careful because calling yourself a non-profit without being one is a crime, and I have been so far unable to find her registered as a non-profit anywhere.)

The anti-vaxer began claiming that the influenza season is a result of influenza vaccination. That is, she postulated that the flu vaccine — and shedding from the vaccine, which is incredibly improbable with the nasal vaccine and impossible with the injected vaccine — causes the yearly epidemics that we see in the northern and southern hemispheres. I’m not kidding. Check this out:

And Easter eggs cause Easter

Those 150 comments are her and a couple of science-oriented people, myself included, trying to set her straight. But then she just goes off on a tangent. This is a later post of hers, in which she alleges that H. influenzae (a bacteria) is what really caused the pandemic:

Because something believed in 1918 is so true today

Now, I would try to explain to her why she’s wrong and why that was just what scientists believed at the time, but it would be pointless. (Viruses as such were theorized before 1918, but it wasn’t until the invention of the scanning electron micrograph that they were visualized and later isolated. Shortly after that, we had a vaccine. In between the SEM and the vaccine, we were able to isolate antibodies. Later, we’d isolate the virus from corpses of people who died in the pandemic, but no H. influenzae.)

It would be pointless to argue because she is a germ theory denialist.

Anyway, if you want to have a good laugh at someone who is rabidly anti-vaccine and wants to come off as a scientist, go over to her page. Chuckle as you read her write over and over that she’s “just asking questions” and wants to have a “balanced” debate.

There are bigger, more important reasons why I’m pointing out her stupidity. I’m pointing out her stupidity because it is classic of most anti-science and anti-vaccine people. They know very little to nothing about the sciences of microbiology and immunology, yet they pretend that they do. They then go and google for any science article that sort of kind of confirms their beliefs and post it on their own echo chambers to show to their followers how smart they are. (Their followers are just as clueless about science as they are, by the way.)

This brings to the forefront the need for better science education at the elementary and secondary school levels. We really can’t get more people like the idiot above get out into the public, create Facebook pages alleging to be non-profit organizations (a crime) and “just ask questions” that lie and deceive unknowing people out of a safe and effective way to prevent deadly communicable diseases. Because, soon enough, some poor new parent is going to stumble onto her rants and get the wrong idea about vaccines, refuse to vaccinate their child, and lose or have that child injured by a vaccine-preventable disease.

Oh, yes, it’s that important to learn science early and often.

It’s all in the chemistry

When I was a kid, one of my father’s friends bought a bottle of alcohol from a man on the street. He brought it over to my dad’s work to share. Dad took one whiff of it and threw it away. His friend was mad, but my dad knew exactly what he was doing. Dad had grown with solvents and chemicals, so he knew methanol when he smelled it.

A trained chemist could have also made the distinction. They can also recognize methanol when they see it. You see, although ethanol and methanol are made up of the same atoms of Carbon, Oxygen, and Hydrogen, the arrangement of the atoms is what’s key. How atoms are arranged in a chemical maters a whole lot, and it is something you need to keep in mind when you are being bombarded by misinformation about vaccine preservatives.

In our “cocktail o’ death” example, ethanol, the actual alcohol that makes you all sorts of easy to get along with, looks like this:

In this image, C is for Carbon, H is for Hydrogen, and O is for Oxygen. On the other hand, methanol looks like this:

Oh, look! It’s made up of the same stuff. Of course, if you look closely, you’ll see that methanol has one carbon while ethanol has two carbons. (Those links between the atoms represent electrons linking the atoms through energy bonds. The ones that look like cones are drawn that way to represent the 3D position of the atoms, with the solid cone telling us that the hydrogen atom is toward us while the hydrogen atom with the segmented cone is behind, or away, from us.) These chemicals are collectively called “alcohols”, and you can recognize them because they all have a carbon that is attached to an OH. The length of the carbon chain tells you the name of the alcohol. One carbon and it’s “methanol”. Two carbons and it’s “ethanol”. Three carbons, and it’s “propanol”. A form of propanol, where the OH is attached to the middle of three carbons, is isopropyl alcohol, rubbing alcohol.

Here’s a fun at-home science project. Mix equal parts rubbing alcohol and distilled water. Note that the alcohol kind of mixes in with the water. Now add salt to the solution and notice what happens. The alcohol layer separates out pretty well from the now salty water. Go on and try it, or watch this video:

This gets me to my next point. Table salt is sodium chloride, and it looks like this:

See how it’s made up of one atom of sodium (Na) and one atom of chloride (Cl)? Together, they make up table salt. You’ve added table salt to water, haven’t you? When you make a nice soup or something salty? Does it blow up? It does not. However, this is what happens when you add sodium alone to water:

That’s right, it explodes! How about chloride? Chlorine gas has been used to kill people as a chemical weapon. So how can these two very serious and deadly things come together to be just plain table salt? Well, it’s all in the chemistry.

This is how table salt is made in the laboratory:

On our planet, the salt deposits and salt in the oceans was made millions of years ago, when this planet was a ball of melted stuff.

Okay, so what about the preservatives in vaccines? What does this little chemistry lesson have to do with those?

Well, I gave you this short lesson in chemistry to stress the fact that chemicals are all about the chemistry. First, you have to understand how the chemical reacts with us. Do we absorb and retain it, or do we excrete it? In the case of thimerosal, we do absorb it, but we don’t retain it. We get rid of it quite easily. Think of it as an analogous reaction as ethanol and methanol; both are alcohols, one is deadly at a low concentration (methanol), while the other is also deadly, but you have a ton of fun getting there. (So to speak.)

Thimerosal is an organic mercury, meaning that it’s mercury that’s attached to a carbon compound. This is what allows it to be processed and discarded by the body. Inorganic mercury, the mercury you see in thermometers, is not attached to those carbon compounds, so it’s hard for the body to get rid of it. Inorganic mercury is usually attached to a “salt”, and it can really do a number on your kidneys.

What about formaldehyde? That’s also a vaccine preservative. Remember what I wrote about “one is deadly at a low concentration”? Well, this is not true of formaldehyde. You need a hefty dose of it to mess you up. Vaccines don’t have that much in them, and you process it and get rid of it pretty quickly. Does it look familiar?

Wow! One hydrogen away from being methanol. In fact, your body turns methanol into formaldehyde on the way to making water-soluble formic acid formate that can be excreted from your body and is a building block for other things. But the body doesn’t get formaldehyde from drinking it only. We get it from our own cellular processes. We make more formaldehyde in our own cellular processes than we get from a vaccine.

The long and short of this all is that you really need to be well-versed in chemistry before you go believing the lies and misinformation of those who say that vaccines are “witches’ brews” and whatnots. Notice that they won’t tell you how much of the “toxin” is in the vaccine, and they’ll quote studies done on mice whereby the mice were given those “toxins” in what would be the “truckload” for us. You really do need to get yourself educated, or these anti-vaxers will trick you into a dangerous decision.

EDITS: Edited to correct the reaction of formaldehyde to formate, not formic acid.

The world is less safe tonight

Some people aren’t looking for anything logical, or reasonable. They can be bought, be bullies, but they can’t be reasoned or negotiated with. Some people just want to watch the world burn.

Imagine for a second that you are a parent who has lost a child to a horrible disease. Pretty painful, right? Now, imagine that you are being harassed time and time again because you are doing your best to keep other children from dying a similar death. Imagine that people who don’t know you personally nor had any involvement in the medical treatment of your child publish article after article claiming to know all the details of your child’s illness and blaming you for the death of your child. And then imagine that they do this over and over and over and over and over, even after you have asked them to please stop.

Think about it for a second, then keep reading.
I bring your attention now to this post and this other post and this other one as well (thanks, Hank, 22MAR13) by “Reasonable Hank”. In those posts, Hank clearly documents the continued harassment of a family in Australia who lost a daughter to pertussis (whooping cough). The harassment comes from an anti-vaccine organization that claims that the girl in question either did not die from pertussis or, if she did, it was from being vaccinated, or from not being breastfed, or from medical incompetence, or something.

The truth is that the vaccine against pertussis is safe and effective. Is it 100% safe and 100% effective? No. Nothing is. A brand new jet flying hundreds of passengers right now over any part of the world is not 100% safe nor 100% effective. The water you will drink today will not be 100% safe nor 100% effective. Yet the vaccine is the best shot we have at keeping this disease at bay.

Many people from many scientific backgrounds – and even laymen – have tried to explain in very simple terms to the anti-vaccine advocates in question how the pertussis vaccine works, why it works, and how it can help provide protection to those too young, too old, too weak, too sick, or otherwise unable to be vaccinated. But these anti-vaccine people are not willing to listen to reason. They’re not willing to look at any facts. They live in their own version of reality.

And the world is less safe for it.

What happens in mouse liver cancer cells in a petri dish in a lab stays in mouse liver cancer cells in a petri dish in a lab

An anti-vaccine advocate – and a very angry one in my opinion – posted the following abstract of a research paper on her blog:

Hepatitis B vaccine induces apoptotic death in Hepa1-6 cells.Hamza H, Cao J, Li X, Li C, Zhu M, Zhao S.
Source Key Lab of Agricultural Animal Genetics, Breeding, and Reproduction of Ministry of Education, College of Animal Science and Technology, Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, People’s Republic of China.
Heyam68_hamza@yahoo.com
AbstractVaccines can have adverse side-effects, and these are predominantly associated with the inclusion of chemical additives such as aluminum hydroxide adjuvant. The objective of this study was to establish an in vitro model system amenable to mechanistic investigations of cytotoxicity induced by hepatitis B vaccine, and to investigate the mechanisms of vaccine-induced cell death. The mouse liver hepatoma cell line Hepa1-6 was treated with two doses of adjuvanted (aluminium hydroxide) hepatitis B vaccine (0.5 and 1 μg protein per ml) and cell integrity was measured after 24, 48 and 72 h. Hepatitis B vaccine exposure increased cell apoptosis as detected by flow cytometry and TUNEL assay. Vaccine exposure was accompanied by significant increases in the levels of activated caspase 3, a key effector caspase in the apoptosis cascade. Early transcriptional events were detected by qRT-PCR. We report that hepatitis B vaccine exposure resulted in significant upregulation of the key genes encoding caspase 7, caspase 9, Inhibitor caspase-activated DNase (ICAD), Rho-associated coiled-coil containing protein kinase 1 (ROCK-1), and Apoptotic protease activating factor 1 (Apaf-1). Upregulation of cleaved caspase 3,7 were detected by western blot in addition to Apaf-1 and caspase 9 expressions argues that cell death takes place via the intrinsic apoptotic pathway in which release of cytochrome c from the mitochondria triggers the assembly of a caspase activation complex. We conclude that exposure of Hepa1-6 cells to a low dose of adjuvanted hepatitis B vaccine leads to loss of mitochondrial integrity, apoptosis induction, and cell death, apoptosis effect was observed also in C2C12 mouse myoblast cell line after treated with low dose of vaccine (0.3, 0.1, 0.05 μg/ml). In addition In vivo apoptotic effect of hepatitis B vaccine was observed in mouse liver.

I realize that’s a lot of digest. As I wrote before, yes, you can do your own research, but you need to know what you are looking at and looking for so you don’t end up looking like a fool on your own anti-vaccine blogs. And I write “blogs” because more than a few anti-vaccine blogs looked at this paper, called it a “study”, and drew their conclusion that the hepatitis B vaccine is a horrible, horrible thing. Let’s look at the key things you need to know to understand this research paper and not be so scared so as to ignore the proper science behind its findings.
First, you need to know what apoptosis is. Not only is it the name of the journal in which this paper was published, it is also the scientific term for “programmed cell death” or just “cell death”. See, biological organisms are always reproducing. It’s not an accident that teenagers are so horny. We’re programmed to eat, grow, and reproduce. Eat. Grow. And reproduce. Everything from single-celled bacteria to whales all eat, grow, and reproduce. But we can’t reproduce forever. Some of our cells need to die to make way for the newer cells. As a result, mechanisms in our cells trigger cell death. Without apoptosis, we would have cancer.

Second, you need to know what “in vitro” means. In vitro is scientific jargon for “happening in a test tube” or “happening in a petri dish”. Basically, in vitro is something that happens in a lab and outside a living, breathing organism. This research was done just that way, in vitro. It wasn’t done in a living mouse. It wasn’t done in a primate. So it wasn’t done in a human. (But our anti-vaccine “friend” is trying to point out the horrors of the hepatitis B vaccine with this paper.) Yes, they mentioned something in the end: “In addition In vivo apoptotic effect of hepatitis B vaccine was observed in mouse liver.” We’ll address that in a second or two.

Third, you need to know what kind of cells were used. They were not human cells. They were not primate cells. They were mouse cells. In fact, they were mouse liver cells. Were they regular mouse liver cells? Nope. They were mouse liver cells from a hepatoma, a liver tumor. So they were already abnormal cells to begin with. Remember what I wrote about apoptosis up there? Without apoptosis we get cancer? These researchers are trying to draw conclusions about apoptosis as it relates to the hepatitis B vaccine using mouse liver cells from a mouse with liver cancer. (But our anti-vaccine “friend” is trying to point out the horrors of the hepatitis B vaccine with this paper. No, that’s not a typo. I’m emphasizing her aim as I emphasize the non-weight of the study she cites.)

Fourth, you need to know what they did. They poured hepatitis B vaccine over the mouse liver cancer cells in a petri dish in lab conditions and measured how many cells were alive after certain periods of time. They also measured chemicals put out by the cells at those times. They concluded, quite right, that pouring vaccine over mouse cancer cells in a petri dish leads to changes at the molecular level of the cells, so much so that they begin dying. Big surprise. Here’s why…

Living, breathing biological systems are quite complex. When we are immunized, our bodies begin to work on the vaccines from the moment they enter our skin, muscles, airway, or gut. (Contrary to what anti-vaccine people will tell you, vaccines are not given straight into the bloodstream.) The cells around the vaccine site begin to metabolize, break down, the vaccine. White blood cells respond to the site to begin the process of identifying the attenuated pathogen or bit of pathogen and begin production of antibodies for immunity. The whole thing takes many steps in many places beginning at the site of immunization and ending at the site where the byproducts of the vaccine exit our body – like the intestines, the kidneys, or, yes, the liver (which leads to the intestines).

People seem to think that hepatitis vaccines, because they are aimed at protecting the liver, somehow act upon the liver. This is not the case in humans. The vaccine acts upon our immune system, which creates antibodies to be on “standby” to protect the liver. When you get exposed to hepatitis B, the virus doesn’t enter the liver directly. It needs to elude the immune system and find your liver. This is why not everyone who is exposed gets sick, though they still make antibodies to show exposure.

In short, you and I are made up of trillions of cells which make up dozens of types of tissues and organs, and they all work together to protect and repair each other. Mouse liver cancer cells in a petri dish in a lab stood no chance no matter what you threw at them, short of nutritive broth. You could have put deionized water in there and see them swell up and explode due to osmosis. You could have put water with a high salt content in there and see them shrivel. Does that mean that drinking water will make your liver explode? Of course not! Our entire body will work together to keep osmotic pressures at a balance. That’s why you pee, to keep water levels in check.

But that’s not what the anti-vaccine people read into this. They just read the title of the paper, called it a “study”, and ran away with the results. Why? Because it suits their needs. Because they don’t understand the science. Because they want to scare you.

Oh, and about that last sentence in the abstract: Without having the full paper in hand, we cannot conclude a single thing about what happened “in vivo” (the scientific jargon for having occurred within a living organism). For all we know, the human vaccine is bad for mice, or they injected it right into their liver. But all that is speculation unless I have more information. I won’t speculate. I’m not an antivaxer.

Sure, do your own research, but…

You’ve probably heard this one:

“PLEASE do your own research! Vaccines are poison. There’s so much misinformation here. Look at the package inserts provided by the CDC. They list autism and SIDS as possible side effects. All this talk about Dr. Wakefield being a fraud and the pro vaxers never even bothered to read the package inserts for themselves. My daughter regressed into autism after a vaccine. Kids all over are dying of SIDS, which is the convenient title that doctors give to babies who die from vaccines. Not to mention allergies, asthma, ADHD, and all other illnesses brought on by vaccines. When America realizes that vaccines don’t make sense, we’ll be healthier for it!”

You’ve probably heard the “do your own research!” part, that is. The rest you’ve probably heard as well, but that’s not the subject of this post. The subject of this post is the “own research” that these people want you to do. Yes, you can do research on your own, but…

But you need a solid scientific base on which to base that research. Without knowing what you are reading, you are very likely to be deceived. You’re likely to believe the lies of the anti-science forces out there. You need to know what is scientifically plausible and what isn’t.

For example, if you read a paper from an obscure source, claiming that homeopathy works, you will tend to believe it if: A) You desperately want to believe, and/or B) you don’t know how basic math and chemistry rules-out the possibility that homeopathy works.

Likewise, if you don’t know how the light spectrum works, and how prisms are used to visualize the spectrum, and that water droplets work as prisms… Oh, forget the science. If you don’t know how rainbows work, you might be this lady:

See, she thinks that rainbows are a sign that the water is contaminated. I bet it’s because she’s seen the sheen on water surfaces after oil or oil-derived compounds are spilled onto them.

If you don’t have a solid base of biology, immunology, and chemistry, you may be inclined to believe that vaccines cause all sorts of evils. If you’re not an epidemiologist who understand causality, you might think that vaccines do cause autism because autism diagnoses are made after vaccination. (Diagnoses are also made after car rides, eating cereal, getting a scrape, teeth coming out, but that doesn’t make any of that be the cause to the effect.)

So, sure, do your own research, but make sure that you are educated in the things you are researching. Most scientific concepts are not easy to understand with a quick view via Google. You need to know what you are looking at, if it is plausible, and the science behind what you are observing.

I’ll tackle the rest of that comment later, if I feel like it.

That whole aborted fetus thing

Those who know me well know that I’m not big on the pro-life people. I totally understand their objections to abortion, most of those objections, anyway. I just don’t understand their obsession with telling women what to do with their bodies or telling people in general what healthcare decisions they should make in consultations with a healthcare provider. Well, one of the objections to vaccination that I hear a lot is that vaccines “contain aborted fetus cells”. This is akin to me saying that the house dust around me, uh, house contains dead people.

Let me explain…

Let’s establish some quick facts. First, vaccines have saved millions of lives and millions of dollars in resources by preventing diseases that kill or disable people of all ages. Second, whether we like it or not, we live in a utilitarian society, where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. It’s sad, especially when you think of kids with a very rare genetic disease who have no hope for a cure because there is virtually no funding for research. But that’s the way things are. Third, it is our responsibility as moral and ethical human beings to learn from tragedies and wrongs so that some good can come of them. This is why surgeons write-up their worst mistakes, pilots give courses on accidents they’ve had, and recovering drug addicts speak to audiences of at-risk youths.

When someone who dies donates their organs, they are making a contribution to society that is very difficult to compare. Out of a tragedy comes life for others. This is the case with respect to the two cell lines currently used in the United States to make vaccines. First, let’s recap real quick how some viral vaccines are made.

Viruses, if you remember, are small organisms that replicate strictly inside of cells. Viruses don’t have their own multiplication mechanism. Because of this, it is necessary to have cells in petri dishes in a lab in order to grow viruses to study them and then make vaccines. These cells had to come from somewhere, and scientists have tried many different types of cells. They’ve tried cells from animals, from insects, from plants. They have tried kidney cells, lung cells, brain cells, etcetera.

In the 1960’s, two fetuses were aborted. One was 3 months gestation, and the other was 14 weeks gestation. One was a girl, and the other was a boy. Cells from their lungs were taken and grown in the lab. Those cells multiplied and created other cells. Then different viruses were placed in those cells and found to grow. Not only did the viruses just grow, but they grew well. The cells multiplied at a good rate. They were able to keep a steady supply of cells for research. The viruses placed in those cells also grew well. They were able to be attenuated and otherwise used for vaccines.

It’s been over 40 years since these cell lines were harvested from aborted fetuses and used to create life-saving vaccines. The cells in those petri dishes – simplifying a bit – are the daughters of the daughters of the granddaughters of the… Well, you get the point. The cells we have today are generations removed from the original fetal cells. Just like my cells are not the cells of my great grandfather. Just like the house dust is not me anymore. Know what I mean?

So, yeah, it’s a tragedy that those fetuses were aborted. Abortion is one of those things I wish didn’t exist. But to say that I can’t use a vaccine to prevent a deadly disease because cells used today for growing the vaccine strain of the viruses are derived from cells cultivated 40+ years ago? That’s one heck of a stretch. It’s not like we’re aborting fetuses left and right to make vaccines, for crying out loud.