Don’t like vaccines? Don’t be a nurse.

I have always been impressed by the places where I find anti-vaccine activists, and I don’t mean online. They are everywhere. They can be our relatives, our friends, our colleagues. Well, your colleagues. Any colleagues of mine who are not fully up to date on their vaccinations and don’t have a reasonable excuse are not my colleagues. And then you also get them in the medical professions.

For example, there is this pediatrician and this other pediatrician who are anti-vaccine based on their words and actions, though they claim not to be. There are also plenty of nurses who are anti-vaccine, and they don’t hesitate to announce it loud and proud. Take as another example this sorry specimen of a nurse:

Don’t listen to her too closely. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

But at least she’s open about it. She’s not like this person:

anti-vax-nut

The person in question is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) at an allergist’s office in Denver, Colorado, according to her Facebook profile, her online resume, and her postings on other anti-vaccine sites and Facebook pages. (She has made most of it private now.) I wonder if she has any idea of how allergists treat allergies? Here’s a hint: They inject “toxins” and “poisons” into their patients to help the patients’ immune systems get used to them. But, alas, vaccines are too much for this person.

Woe be unto her if she decides to lie about her vaccination status, like the people giving her advice do. Why? Because she can seriously compromise the health and safety of patients she works with. And she can face criminal prosecution if she endangers patients on purpose and knowingly lies about her vaccination status. So let this stand as a public record of her actions.

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Theatricality and deception, weapons against the uninitiated

If you watched the Nolan Batman Trilogy (“Batman Begins” to “The Dark Knight Rises”), you may have noticed a phrase that was uttered throughout. In “Batman Begins,” our hero is told to use “theatricality and deception” as “weapons against the uninitiated.” He was being told to use small explosions and smoke to distract his opponents and gain an advantage. He took that a step further and created the Batman persona in order to protect those he loves from retaliation when he went after the bad guys.

As you can see, Batman wasn’t the only one using theatricality and deception. His adversaries also did, to deadly consequences. In “Batman Begins,” the League of Shadows releases a toxin to bring fear to the people of Gotham. In “The Dark Knight,” the Joker uses a lot of deception to play games with our hero and the Gotham City Police Department. And, in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Bane hides in the shadows and acts from within them, very patiently, until he stikes and holds the city hostage.

It is also Bane who says something about theatricality and deception:

“Theatricality and deception, powerful agents against the uninitiated… But we are initiated, aren’t we, Bruce?” Some days, I feel just like Batman did at the end of that fight, to be honest. Continue reading

The willing participants

As I tried to comment on Dr. Bob Sears’ Facebook post last night, I encountered a group of people that very much worry me, for lack of a better term. They worry me because they have come to view the world in a certain way based solely on their experiences with autism. They don’t question what they feel, what they see, what others tell them, or what they intuitively agree with. They do question anything that doesn’t jive with how they feel or how they see the world.

For example, we have this woman:

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That’s it. She doesn’t need any more evidence than what is in front of her in the form of 5 nephews. It doesn’t matter if the autistic kids share something between them that they don’t share with the non-autistic kids. It’s the vaccines that did that to them.

Then there is this person:

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Studies on unvaccinated children versus vaccinated have been done retrospectively (because prospective studies that would randomize children into vaccinated and unvaccinated groups would be unethical). There is no difference between autistic children and non-autistic children when it comes to immunizations. None. They both got them, and they both got them in similar doses and concentrations.

But then I ventured to this article on Time.com and read those comments… And I read a very chilling one:

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She wrote, “We lost my son after that, and he became extremely ill.” Another commenter said that he was sorry for the death of her child, but I don’t think the child died. She wrote that they “lost” her son and then he became ill. If you follow that sequence, then you see yet another comment in which the development or recognition of autism in a child is seen as a tragedy or a disaster. And it is something I see more and more as I make the rounds in anti-vaccine places online: Parents who see their autistic children as “lost” and/or “helpless” and express some feeling of despair, guilt, and a willingness to find those responsible for that “loss” and bring them to justice.

All these folks, and many more with similar willingness to ignore the evidence and follow the gurus (aka “Autism’s False Prophets“) are willing participants in a series of events that is spreading misinformation, pseudo-science, quackery, and outright lies around the world faster than we, the scientists, can catch up with them. We try. We go and comment and get called pharma shills or threatened with losing our jobs or worse. Or we spend countless hours at school and at work, trying to understand immunology, neurology, and all those bits of science that will bring better living to people on any end of any spectrum.

By God, we try.

But it’s so scary and so unnerving to know that there are people who are so sold on the idea that vaccines cause autism and that there is a massive plot to give autism to children the world over. It’s scary because herd immunity against serious threats is waning. If we have a severe flu pandemic, less than half of the population will get vaccinated. There are children dying of measles in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Measles! A vaccine-preventable disease that was almost wiped out up until some British jerk of a doctor decided to publish a fraudulent case series claiming autism was caused by the MMR vaccine.

It is also unnerving because we have willing participants in the anti-vaccine movement who pray that the world ends in order to end their own suffering. Or they pray, literally, that those who oppose the anti-vaccine groups be utterly destroyed. Think I’m kidding? Just read this post (warning, it’s at an anti-vaccine blog). In it, the author writes such things as:

“And yet, as thankful as I am for an understanding of what has happened to my child and so many others, my heart is heavy.  The Dark Forces which in the past have destroyed the careers of those who have found clues to the afflictions of our children and other disease communities are once again on the move.”

Dark forces? And:

“I often find myself pondering such questions of faith.  What is it I’m meant to do?  I want to rush the barricades, but to what effect?  It was with such thoughts in my mind I went to our local bookstore, picked up a Bible, opened it to a random page, and with my eyes closed, put my finger down.

This was the passage my finger landed on.”

He then goes on to quote Psalm 94 from the Old Testament. That Psalm is all about an angry God bringing death and destruction to the people who have wronged and abused the writer of the Psalm. It reads in part: “He will repay them for their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the Lord God will wipe them out.”

The author of that post concludes with this:

“If you’re listening God, and it meets with Your approval, this week would be an excellent time to deal with them.”

Dear God, indeed… Especially knowing what the author of that post put his daughter through.

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.

A Question Of Whose Side You’re On

Yeah, I know I haven’t published a new chapter in The Poxes in a while. Relax.

Anyway, let’s talk about bias a little bit. Take a look at the following clip:

Did you see that? The player in red (Chile, I think), grabbed the arm of the player in yellow (Colombia?), and hit himself with it. Clearly, it was not a foul. But the ref still called it a foul and gave the ball to the Chilean team.

What the fuck, right?

Unfortunately, a lot of things in life work the same way. The deceit is especially tricky, or the person making the call is not paying attention (or not informed enough to make the good call).

People who make pseudoscientific claims do kind of the same thing. They’ll take a fact about their pseudoscience and run with it. For example, homeopaths will say that their remedies are free of side-effects, and they’re correct. However, their remedies are free of any effects.

Now, people who want to believe in homeopathy will believe it no matter what. It’s actually a very low number that will change their mind when they are presented with evidence. Very low. Those who won’t change their minds will – sometimes literally –  go to the grave for their belief. They will see the Chilean player clearly grab the arm of the Colombian and hit himself with it, and they will still say that the Colombian was a dirty player.

People of science, critical thinkers, and anyone else that likes to look at the evidence presented to them before jumping to conclusions, those people will see what really happened and act accordingly. Can they be tricked? Of course. They’re human. But they are much more likely to change their mind to what is right and what is fair rather than stay in a state of darkness that brings about harm to others around them as well.

I’m not saying that everyone in the world should take up a scientific discipline and become a critical thinker. It wouldn’t hurt, but I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that there are two factions – at least – who are in a battle for the minds of the public. On the one hand, you have the charlatans, those who would send you sugar pills and attribute to those pills all sorts of magical acting. On the other are the people who hold themselves to a higher standard, to not deceiving the public. Rather, we’re here to point out the Chileans in the world, so to speak, who are trying to trick you into losing the game.

It’s all a question of whose die you’re on.