Better the disease than the vaccine?

by endlesspsych

This coming Saturday there will be an anti swine-flu vaccine march organised by the Vaccine awareness network there will also be a swine flu “scam” conference in Kirkcaldy in the evening. There are a couple of things about this that distress me greatly about this turn of events.

The first thing that worries me is the misrepresentation of facts on the vaccine awareness website (as well as out-and-out lies) about vaccination.

Especially pernicious is the ghoulish “Girl dies after taking swine flu vaccine” which chimes well with the oft-repeated mantra of the anti-vaxxer “Better the disease than the vaccine” but how well does it chime with the reality? Vaccinations can, and do, have side effects 10-25% of people however in a study in the New England Journal of medicine of 2200 people it was found that:

No severe adverse side effects associated with the vaccine were noted. In the nonadjuvanted-vaccine groups, injection-site or systemic reactions, most mild in nature, were noted in 5.5 to 15.9% of subjects.

This finding is fairly typical of research into the H1N1 vaccine, unfortunately using science and evidence to appeal to peoples reason seems to fall somewhat flat when faced with people willing to exploit emotive soundbites and misinformation. As of November 19, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that 65 million doses of vaccine had been administered and that it had a similar safety profile to the seasonal flu vaccine, with no significant differences in the adverse events produced by the different types of vaccine. There has been one report of an adverse event per 10,000 doses of vaccine, with only five percent of these adverse events being serious, an overall rate of serious events of one in 200,000 doses.

In the UK there have been 22,444 confirmed cases of Swine flu and 270 deaths – thats around 1 death for every 83 cases. Given the likelihood of a severe reaction (which does not necessarily include death) to the H1N1 vaccine is 1 in 200,000 doses which seems better the “disease or the vaccine”?

Another common anti-vax myth is that the virus is man made and could not possibly have come to exist within nature this ignores scientific facts about the flu virus and viruses in general. The first being, rather uncontroversial unless one is a creationist, that the simplicity of viruses and microbes allows them to mutate and evolve in order to aid better multiplication and transmission. Nature does not exist in a stable state – new viruses are constantly emerging – it is only the ones that are successful enough to start an infection chain that we have to deal with. Furthermore the recombinant status of Influenza A viruses is an adaptation to allow it to infect more people and avoid the immune system defeating it – there are 16 known H antigens and 9 known N antigens.

“All influenza A pandemics since [the Spanish flu pandemic], and indeed almost all cases of influenza A worldwide (excepting human infections from avian viruses such as H5N1 and H7N7), have been caused by descendants of the 1918 virus, including “drifted” H1N1 viruses and reassorted H2N2 and H3N2 viruses. The latter are composed of key genes from the 1918 virus, updated by subsequently incorporated avian influenza genes that code for novel surface proteins, making the 1918 virus indeed the “mother” of all pandemics.

There is also plenty of fear and misinformation present about the chemicals used in vaccines being toxic or being somehow otherwise harmful. Again the vast majority of these stories are baseless paranoia and just plain wrong. To pick one example you could look at the case of Squalene and the implication of its involvement in Gulf war syndrome (JDC has an excellent blog about this here.) The gist of the matter being that squalene contained within vaccines was blamed for causing, through some unknown and unobserved mechanism, GWS – however on closer inspection the vaccines the troops were given did not actually contain squalene.

A link between the health problems of Gulf-War veterans and possible presence of squalene in vaccines received by these soldiers has been suggested. One published report has suggested that some army veterans who received anthrax vaccines developed anti-squalene antibodies and that these antibodies caused disabilities. However, squalene was not added to the vaccines administered to these veterans, nor was it used in the manufacturing process. Various papers have been published outlining the technical deficiencies in that original report.

Similar nonsense can usually be found claiming thimerosal causes autism: there is no science that suggests this to be the case.

Frankly there are a hundred and things wrong with the vaccine awareness networks campaign of fear, paranoia and misinformation. I would hope people could see through the nonsense and realise that vaccines are being used as scapegoats and that they should trust the words of medical professionals and scientists as opposed to hysterical anti-vax parents. As no matter how pure their motives it just does not make them right.

The following table comes from the national network for immunization information :

Common claims found on misinformation websites

Claims Facts

Natural methods of enhancing immunity are better than vaccinations.

The only ‘natural way’ to be immune is to have the disease. Immunity from a preventive vaccine provides protection against disease when a person is exposed to it in the future. That immunity is usually similar to what is acquired from natural infection, although several doses of a vaccine may have to be given for a child to have a full immune response.

Epidemiology—often used to establish vaccine safety—is not science but number crunching.

Epidemiology is a well-established scientific discipline that, among other things, identifies the cause of diseases and the factors that increase a person’s risk for a disease.

Giving multiple vaccines at the same time causes an ‘overload’ of the immune system.

Vaccination does not overburden a child’s immune system; the recommended vaccines use only a small portion of the immune system’s “memory”.

Vaccines are ineffective.

Vaccines have spared millions of people the effects of devastating diseases. (See Vaccine effectiveness).

Prior to the use of vaccinations these diseases had begun to decline due to improved nutrition and hygiene.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, some infectious diseases began to be better controlled because of improvements in sanitation, clean water, pasteurized milk, pest control, etc. However, vaccine-preventable diseases only began to drop dramatically after the vaccines for those diseases were licensed and were given to large numbers of children. (See Vaccine effectiveness).

Vaccines cause illnesses or disorders of unknown cause such as autism, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), immune dysfunction, diabetes, neurological disorders, allergic rhinitis, eczema, and asthma.

Scientific evidence does not support these claims. See IOM reports.

Contaminated vaccination lots (or “hot lots”) are more likely to cause an adverse reaction.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates the production of vaccines very carefully to assure the potency, purity and safety of vaccines.

There now follow some links:

Newsweek: the long term benefits of vaccination.

WHO: Causality assessment of adverse events following immunization

CDC: ten things you need to know about vaccines

NHS: Immunisation website

The excellent – NHS Choices behind the headlines blog which I heartily recommend to anyone who wants to know the inside track about health stories reported in the media…

The bottom line for me is that this paranoia and fear is largely baseless and we should not condemn our children (or anyone elses) to potential lethal or life altering disease and illness on the actions of a movement based on ignorance.