What you need to know to fight anti-science activists

A lot of the focus of this blog has been on the anti-vaccine forces out there. That was kind of the original intent since “The Poxes” is kind of a dystopian story of what happens when we just stop vaccinating, cold turkey. (That reminds me that I need to get back to writing that story.) But there are other dangerous lines of thought out there, and I’d like to give you a list of things you need to know to fight them.

We all know that you need a primer on immunology and chemistry to fight the anti-vaccine types. Maybe you can throw in a little toxicology. Knowing these things will help you understand why thimerosal, a chemical that contains mercury, doesn’t behave like mercury alone. It’s not as toxic, and it is delivered in such a small amount that your body deals with it well. A little biology will help you know that you produce more formaldehyde just sitting there reading this and eating fruit than you will ever get through all the recommended vaccines. Again, toxicology will help you understand that your body deals well with those tiny amounts of formaldehyde, and you have nothing to worry about. Continue reading

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D-N-Eh?

Recently, a particularly insane conspiracy theory about the HPV vaccine began to make the rounds courtesy of some dubious science. The conspiracy stated that DNA was found in the vaccine, so it was being injected into unknowing people. The same conspiracy nuts stated that the DNA in the vaccines was integrating itself into the recipients’ DNA and causing all sorts of trouble. Others said that the presence of this DNA, although not from a human source, was creating antibodies against DNA; Antibodies that would later attack the recipients’ own DNA.

Plausibility went out the window on this one. Let me tell you why.

Let’s start off by talking about DNA and what it is. DNA is a molecule made up of nitrogen, sugars (which are made of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen), and phosphates. The molecules of DNA are arranged in a way that tell structures inside the cell which amino acids to create. These amino acids are then joined in chains to make proteins. Those proteins can be anything from cell wall structures to hormones to antibodies, etc. As you can see, without DNA, we would not be able to make the important stuff in our bodies.

Did you catch that DNA is inside cells? That’s correct. DNA is inside almost all the living cells of all living things. Exceptions include red blood cells and other cells without a nucleus, where the DNA is housed. Viruses also have DNA, although they don’t fit the full definition of being alive. Rest assured, though, their DNA is no different than yours. It’s made of the same stuff. The only difference between viral DNA and your DNA is that viral DNA is built in a differ sequence than yours. Your sequence codes for a human – unless you’re a dolphin trained to read this, of course. Viral DNA codes for a virus, and it requires a cell to make the virus’ parts and put them together. This is why viruses invade and destroy cells.

Now that you know this, can you tell me what other things besides vaccines have DNA that you have put in your body? Let’s see… Beef, chicken, pork, fish? Yes. Asparagus, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes? Yes! Milk? Of course. Milk has cow white blood cells in it. They’re deactivated or killed in pasteurization, but they’re there. Bread? Yes, it has yeast DNA and wheat DNA. You get the point.

Of course, anti-vaccine groups will counter that the food you eat is handled by your stomach and intestines – or cooked – so as to render the DNA unviable by the time it reaches your blood stream. Well, what do you think the formaldehyde and other preservatives and solvents in vaccines do? They make sure that any DNA and anything else harmful is rendered useless before being injected into you.

Watch, they’ll move the goalposts again and point their fingers at those additives… Oh, wait.

So let me tell you about what is in that blood given to people who need transfusions: DNA. Even though red blood cells do not have DNA in them, white blood cells do. There are filters and other methods to minimize the number of white blood cells that make it through into a recipient, some of the donor white blood cells still get into recipients’ bloodstreams. This goes without consequence in the vast majority of transfusions of blood, platelets, plasma, or other blood products. There is a condition known as Graft-Versus-Host disease where the donor white blood cells attack the recipient if the recipient is completely devoid of their own immune system.

Do people die of transfusions? Yes, but not at a higher rate per transfusion than if they didn’t get the blood product.

So knowing what you know now about DNA, do find a reasonable reason to fear DNA in any vaccine? I hope you don’t. Not only is any DNA in vaccines incredibly minimal in amount and concentration, it is also handily taken apart and used as raw material by your own body… Much like beef DNA in a nice, juicy steak.