The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘thimerisol’

Anti-Vaccinationists’ PSA Won’t Be Aired by AMC Theaters!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 25, 2010

A few days ago when I mentioned that “It’s time to kick some ass…” on the issue of the anti-vaccine scumbags at Age of Autisum and SafeMinds trying to run a pseudoscientific & fearmongering anti-vaccine ad in theaters nationwide, I meant it.  And apparently you did as well, because collectively we have kicked some major woo ass, folks!

I just found out that the Age of Autism organization has their knickers in a bunch because, apparently, they’ve been told by AMC Theaters that the company will NOT be airing their “public service announcement” this weekend after all…

Why Was this PSA Rated X?

SafeMinds was notified late yesterday afternoon that AMC Theaters has decided to block the SafeMinds Public Service Announcement (PSA) on influenza vaccines with mercury. The PSA alerts parents and pregnant women of the presence of mercury in most influenza vaccines and the ample availability of mercury-free alternatives. The CDC has declined to give a preference for the mercury-free versions, so it is important that the public is aware of its options. AMC’s advertising representative had reviewed and approved the PSA to run in AMC cinemas over the Thanksgiving weekend. A small group of vocal vaccine proponents dismissive of mercury concerns learned of the PSA and bombarded the AMC website, leading to the company’s decision to prevent its release. SafeMinds thanks its supporters who viewed the PSA and contributed to its efforts to educate the public to avoid unnecessary mercury exposure. Mercury in all forms is dangerous, especially to the developing fetus and infants, as referenced on the PSA website www.safemindsflu.org. SafeMinds will continue its mission to educate the public on this important healthcare topic. …

Now, in their fit of whining, the Age of Autism people are encouraging their followers to boycott AMC theaters.  In response, I say we encourage everyone we know to attend an AMC theater this weekend; I also suggest that you consider writing a letter to the company stating how happy you are that they made the right decision in pulling this dangerous ad from circulation in their theaters.  I think perhaps a quick way to do this is to leave feedback at this website, the same website where earlier complaints about the anti-vax ad were left earlier this week.

Congratulations folks, we did it – this is a testament to grassroots skepticism in action that makes a real difference for everyone 🙂

Please note: I have no idea if any other theater chains (such as Regal or Sony) potentially involved in airing this ad have followed AMC’s lead.  If anyone has any information on this, please share it with me.

Posted in environmental hysteria, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Anti-Vaccination PSA Coming to a Theater Near You… Literally!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 20, 2010

**UPDATE (11/24/10): Looks like AMC Theaters has pulled the plug on this ad 🙂

**Update (11/23/10): I may have spoken too soon with my earlier update, folks.  It seems that over the last day or so we’ve received some conflicting reports about exactly what is & isn’t going on at AMC with these ads.  Elyse Anders provides more details over at Skepchick on this – until we have more info, stay tuned & continue contacting the theaters in question.

**Update (11/21/10): It appears the executives at AMC (which owns some of the theaters in question) have listened to the public outcry – they say they have pulled the ad and do not plan to show it. However, some of the other theaters may not be owned by AMC, so please contact them.

===============

It’s time to kick some ass… I just found out that the anti-vaccinationist groups called Age of Autism and SafeMinds are planning on running a public service announcement (PSA) in movie theaters nationwide the weekend following Thanksgiving. I’ve seen the 30 second ad, and it contains the usual thoroughly debunked nonsense regarding “mercury toxins in vaccines” and how this is supposedly dangerous for children.  The facts are that there is ZERO evidence that the mercury preservative in vaccines, called thimerosal, is any sort of danger – there are no links between thimerosal & autism, either (a common claim by various anti-vaxxers).  In fact, even after the U.S. government removed thimerosal from the vaccine schedule for children the rate of autism continued to rise!

But don’t tell that to the anti-vax crowd, because they don’t give a whit about the science.  They believe in their heart of hearts that they know the “truth about vaccines”, and they don’t care one way or the other what the actual evidence is… and they want to proselytize this lunacy to you:

Folks, the purpose of this ad is simple: it is to sow fear & distrust of vaccines in the hopes that you & your kids don’t get them at all – that’s it.  These anti-vax groups are, for whatever reason, ideologically opposed to the very idea of vaccinations, and they’ll use every slimy tactic in the book to push it on you.  If you can stomach it, here is their ad…

And here is the list of theaters that are currently being targeted by Age of Autism for this dangerous propaganda (with the potential to reach over 500,000 people):

*Empire 25 in New York City

*Long Beach 26 in Long Beach, California

*River East 21 in Chicago, IL

*Boston Common 19 in Boston, MA

*Phipps Plaza 14 in Atlanta, GA

*Tyson’s Corner 16 in McLean, VA

*Northpark Center 15 in Dallas, TX

*Rosedale 14 in Saint Paul, MN

*Pavillions 15 in Denver, CO

We cannot let this stand… I suggest that if you live in any of these areas (or know people who do) that you contact the theater in question to find out whether or not they plan to run this PSA, and if they do plan to do so then make it well known to them that you will boycott that business in perpetuity (and you will encourage everyone you know to do the same) – when it comes to stuff like this, money talks & bullshit walks.  I would also notify your local health department and medical doctors’ organization about this, on the chance that they might wish to make some kind of public statement against this idiocy.

And spread the word – the skeptical & pro-science community needs to send a strong, clear message to those who would spread such life-endangering pseudoscience that we will not stand for it.  We didn’t ask for this fight, be we will fight it & we will finish it.

Posted in environmental hysteria, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

It Bears Repeating: Yet MORE Evidence That Vaccines DON’T Cause Autism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 13, 2010

Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but… hell with it, let’s beat the dead horse once more: here is YET MORE evidence that vaccines DON’T cause autism!

No link found between vaccine mercury and autism

By Frederik Joelving Frederik Joelving Mon Sep 13, 3:38 am ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A new government study adds to the evidence that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative until recently found in many vaccines, does not increase children’s risk of autism.

It shows kids who had been exposed as babies to high levels of the preservative — through vaccines they received or their mothers received while pregnant — were no more likely to develop autism, including two distinct subtypes of the condition.

“This study should reassure parents about following the recommended immunization schedule,” said Dr. Frank Destefano, director of the Immunization Safety Office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, and the study’s senior author.

Concerns about a link between vaccines and autism were first raised more than a decade ago by British physician Andrew Wakefield.

His report, based on 12 children, has since been discredited and was retracted earlier this year by the journal that published it. In the meantime, it sparked a fierce worldwide debate among scientists and a health scare that caused many parents to shy away from recommended vaccines like the one against measles, mumps and rubella.

Outbreaks of all three diseases followed.

One widespread worry has been that thimerosal might play a role in the development of autism, a condition that affects as many as one in 110 U.S. children, according to the CDC.

Most scientists consider autism a developmental disorder, likely influenced by genes.

Autism spectrum disorders range from mild Asperger’s Syndrome to severe mental retardation and social disability, and there is no cure or good treatment.

The CDC researchers used data for U.S. children born between 1994 and 1999, who were enrolled in one of three managed care organizations.

They found 256 children with an autism spectrum disorder and compared them with 752 children who did not have the condition, but were matched for age and sex.

No matter when a child had been exposed to thimerosal — before birth when the mother had a shot, or when the child itself was vaccinated as a baby or toddler — there was no increase in the risk of any type of autism spectrum disorder.

In fact, those kids who were exposed to the preservative between birth and 20 months of age had slightly lower odds of developing the condition, although the researchers could not explain that result.

“This is a very reassuring study,” said Dr. Michael J. Smith, a pediatrician at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky who was not involved in the research.

“These data show that you could receive a thimerosal vaccine and not be concerned about it.”

Smith, who said he has a fully vaccinated two-month-old at home, noted that autism rates have continued to rise, although thimerosal has been removed from all routine childhood vaccines, except flu shots.

For parents who remain concerned about thimerosal in the flu shots, he said there are alternatives without the preservative, such as FluMist, a nasal spray that can be used in children aged two and older.

Some parents have also worried that giving too many shots at once, or in children who are too young, could cause mental problems. Smith said studies had dispelled those concerns one by one.

“There is no credible evidence” for a link between vaccines and autism, he told Reuters Health.

SOURCE: http://link.reuters.com/gas77m Pediatrics, online September 13, 2010.

These sorts of things, sadly, need to be repeated over and over again because, in my experience, when those on the pro-science & reason side go silent, that is precisely when the pseudoscientific nuts will come crawling out of whatever rock they’ve crawled under.  And you need to look no further than the comment section on this article to see what sort of entrenched, conspiracy-mongering mentality we are dealing with from those in the anti-vaccination movement: they immediately dismiss one of the most comprehensive studies on the matter by making insinuations that the government is in league with Big Pharma or whomever to do… something.  I’ve rarely been told be the anti-vax conspiracy theorists what this “something” is supposed to be, but we can all be assured that it’s definitely something sinister…

In short: against such dangerous nonsense & irrationality, we must be ever vigilant, folks.  Ever vigilant – because if we are silent, these loons win the argument by default.

Posted in conspiracy theories, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Why Vaccines Matter: Whooping Cough is Coming Back

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 31, 2010

When talking to people about the importance of getting vaccinated, I often hear the following argument, or some variation thereof: “Why should I bother getting vaccinated, because disease XXX isn’t even around anymore!” Of course, this is a perfect example of ignoring the reason why those diseases are kept in check (a.k.a. the incorrect cause fallacy); so many dangerous diseases are not an issue (or used to not be an issue) in industrialized society is due to widespread vaccination campaigns over the last few generations.  These diseases, such as pertussis (also known as whooping cough), are not completely gone, however – they are merely lying dormant.  In fact, because of the scare tactics put forth by many in the anti-vaccination movement over the last 20-30 years, vaccination rates have been dropping; and that gives an opening for these diseases to come back.  I can think of no other example which so clearly illustrates that pseudoscience & conspiracy mongering misinformation can kill.

And that is exactly what is happening – whooping cough is on the rise again, and rates of infection in the United States are increasing at alarming rates, and people (mostly children) are starting to die from an easily preventable disease. The bottom line really has to do with herd immunity, which basically states that if enough of the population is vaccinated against a particular disease, then not enough people can become infected to allow the virus to effectively propagate (which provides protection to those who, for whatever reason, cannot receive vaccinations).

If you think this isn’t a problem, think again.  The following Livescience.com article outlines very clearly why it is so important that we not become lackadaisical regarding these illnesses.  The solution is simple: talk to your doctor, get yourself vaccinated, and encourage those around you to do likewise…

Whooping Cough Makes Whopping Comeback

Christopher Wanjek
LiveScience’s Bad Medicine Columnist
livescience.com
Sat Aug 28, 2:55 pm ET

Whooping cough sounds fantastically antiquated, up there with scurvy and St. Vitus Dance – diseases you didn’t think anyone in America got anymore.

But whooping cough, named for the high-pitched “whoop” a person makes when inhaling, has made a comeback, with an incidence rate up by a whopping 2,300 percent since 1976, the year when fear of the vaccine began to take hold and vaccination rates started to plummet. In 1976 there were only about 1,000 reported cases; in 2005, the most recent peak, there were nearly 27,000 reported cases (and likely over 1 million unreported cases), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With outbreaks that cycle every three to five years, the respiratory tract infection might peak again this year, and the CDC recommends you get a booster shot soon.

We’re not off to a good start. In June, California declared a whooping cough epidemic after the death of five infants. So far there have been nearly 3,000 reported cases across six states, according to the CDC, a sevenfold increase compared with this time last year. Whooping cough season doesn’t really kick in until the fall.

A reversing trend

Whooping cough, known in the medical trade by its more conservative name, pertussis, is nearly completely preventable through vaccination. Pertussis was once a leading cause of infant death, with over a quarter million cases and about 8,000 total deaths annually in the United States during the peak years in the 1930s, just before the advent of the vaccine in the 1940s, according to CDC statistics.

By the 1970s, through vaccinations, whooping cough was as endangered as the whooping crane, with only about 0.000005 percent of the population infected. Unfortunately, fears that the DPT vaccine (a combo for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) could cause brain damage in rare cases – not entirely unfounded – gave rise to the anti-DPT movement in many industrialized countries.

At issue was the “whole-cell pertussis” element of the vaccine, since replaced in most countries, including the United States, with an “acellular” formulation (which includes purified proteins from the Bordetella pertussis bacteria), indicated by the “a” in DTaP, a common abbreviation for the vaccine these days. While never conclusively associated with brain damage, the original formulation was tied to other serious albeit rare side effects, such as allergic reactions and seizures.

Hype and consequences

The impact of the anti-vaccine movement was dramatic. In Great Britain, immunization rates for whooping cough dropped from over 80 percent to 33 percent (and in some regions to less than 10 percent) from 1974 to 1977. Then the epidemic hit. In 1979 there were over 100,000 cases and 36 deaths worldwide. In Japan in 1975, amidst public worry, the government suspended mandatory pertussis vaccines for infants; the 1979 epidemic killed over 40 children there. The same scene repeated itself in other countries, as well.

In June 2009 researchers reported in the journal Pediatrics that children who didn’t receive the whooping cough vaccine were 23 times more likely to contract pertussis. In the June 2010 issue of Pediatrics, researchers found no connection between the vaccine and seizures.

Herd mentality

The recent upsurge of whooping cough cases is not entirely the fault of the anti-vaccine movement. For the pertussis incidence rates to remain low – even among the vaccinated, because the vaccine isn’t 100-percent effective – there needs to be herd protection, in this case over 90 percent of the entire population immunized, to minimize the number of carriers.

Fewer than 85 percent of children are fully immunized against pertussis, according to the CDC. Some parents simply forget to keep up the multi-shot schedule. And for adults, vaccinated as children, the strength of the immunization has waned.

To curb the epidemic, the CDC is recommending that adults get a booster shot. Most adults have never received one and have never been told to get one.

Going natural is perhaps not the best bet. While pertussis is rarely deadly for otherwise healthy adults, struggling through the aptly named “100-day cough” isn’t particularly pleasant, with its uncontrollable fits of violent coughing around the clock.

Also, in the August 2010 edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases, James Cherry of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA addresses a common myth that living through a bout of pertussis offers lifetime immunity. Not so. Protection from the vaccine and booster lasts longer, although no more than 10 years.

One limiting factor for a fully immunized population could be the fact that, for adults, the booster shot might not be covered by medical insurance. So your decision might come down to coughing it up now or coughing it up later.

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

U.S. Appeals Court Finds No Link Between Vaccines & Autism

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 28, 2010

I’m on a vaccine kick lately, probably because of my involvement through the Women Thinking Free Foundation & Skepchick’s work to bring a free vaccine clinic to Dragon*Con 2010. I’ll provide more details about that, as well as the launch of the Hug Me – I’m Vaccinated! campaign, later this week.  For now, I just wanted to share with you my thoughts about an epic win in court for science & evidence-based medicine 🙂

No link between vaccines and autism, appeals court rules

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID
updated 8/27/2010 6:07:09 PM ET

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a ruling that vaccines are not to blame for autism.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a decision last year by a special vaccine court, which concluded there’s little if any evidence to support claims of a vaccine-autism link.

Scientist years ago reached that conclusion, but more than 5,500 families sought compensation through the government’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Friday’s ruling came in the case of Michelle Cedillo of Yuma, Ariz., who is disabled with autism, inflammatory bowel disease and other disorders that her parents blame on a measles vaccine given at 15 months.

In the 2009 ruling Special Master Denise Vowell wrote that the evidence “is weak, contradictory and unpersuasive. Sadly, the petitioners in this litigation have been the victims of bad science conducted to support litigation rather than to advance medical and scientific understanding” of autism.

In its ruling Friday the appeals panel said “we have carefully reviewed the decision of the special master and we find that it is rationally supported by the evidence, well-articulated, and reasonable. We, therefore, affirm the denial of the Cedillos’ petition for compensation.”

Earlier this year the so-called vaccine court also concluded that the additive thimerosal is not to blame for autism, an added setback in a long-running battle by parents convinced there is a connection.

The decisions help to offer reassurance to parents scared about vaccinating their babies because of a small but vocal anti-vaccine movement. Some vaccine-preventable diseases, including measles, are on the rise.

I have no doubt that the hard core anti-vaccinationists, like Jenny McCarthy, will just spin this as some kind of conspiracy theory about how the courts are in the pocket of Big Pharma, and so on.  I know that no amount of logic or evidence will convince those who have gone way down the anti-vax rabbit hole, but hopefully the news will convince those on the fence.

Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Penn & Teller Call “Bullsh*t!” on Anti-Vaccination

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 24, 2010

Today, I got my annual influenza shot, and as I was doing so my thoughts naturally turned to the general question of vaccines & the pseudoscience spread by those who think vaccines are somehow, in some weird alternate reality, a bad thing.  Bottom line: the anti-vaccination movement is dangerous because it endangers the lives of innocent people; the results of widespread non-vaccination can be deadly.  I think skeptical magicians Penn & Teller articulate very well in this video exactly why this is the case.  Please, get vaccinated, and share this important & life-saving message…

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Have Fun PWNing Anti-Vax Nut Wakefield: Add Your Own Caption!

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 28, 2010

As if the whole debacle of anti-vaccination guru Andrew Wakefield’s pathetic attendance at his rally (only about 100 people showed up – some “rally”) wasn’t hilarious enough, the following photo was acquired from the Age of Autism website…

It seems that the Countering Age of Autism blog has a “fill in the caption” contest underway to see who can come up with the most snarky caption making fun of Wakefield.  Have at it! 🙂

Posted in humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Skeptical PWNage of Darth Wakefield & His Anti-Vax Woosters Continues

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 28, 2010

I just want to provide a quick follow up to yesterday’s post about how the Women Thinking Free Foundation’s (WTFF) crew from the nascent Hug Me! campaign skeptically ninjaed the anti-vaccination rally hosting uber-douchebag Andrew Wakefield. It seems that since I blogged about it, the story has exploded all over the skeptical blogosphere, with the famous photo of Wakefield getting skeptically pwned making many appearances 🙂

The two skeptical ninjas shown here on either side of Andrew “Douchebag” Wakefield are Jamie Bernstein and Bruce Critelli.  In the words of another of my skeptical colleagues, these two “are the mayors of Balls City!”  Indeed 😀

Jamie recounts her experience of the rally over at The Friendly Atheist – feel free to follow Jamie via Twitter .@UAJamie

and

Bruce shares some really interesting video he shot at the rally

Of Bruce’s video, the most unnerving part was, to me, a story that Wakefield told the “crowd” (less than 100 people is hardly a crowd) with one woman who was talking about her son…

About 15 years ago a mother from London approached him and said “Do not judge me too harshly Dr. Wakefield, but when I die I am taking my son with me. You see, I’m all he has. I’m the only one who loves him.”

“I didn’t judge,” said Wakefield. “I was moved by the love that a mother must have for her child that she would take his life rather than have him fall upon a society that really didn’t give a damn.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Skeptics PWN Anti-Vax Scumbag Wakefield at His Own Rally

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 27, 2010

**Update: Check out my follow-up post for more news, photos, and video of this event.

============

Well, congratulate me folks – I’m now officially part of a squad of skeptical ninjas 🙂

Today, there was an anti-vaccination rally in Chicago, and the king of anti-vax woo & nonsenseAndrew Wakefield himself – showed up.  I suppose he decided to hang with his anti-vax homies here in the U.S. seeing as how he’s essentially lost his license to practice medicine in the United Kingdom because of his fraudulent work there.

Anyway, the new skeptical group I’m part of, the Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF), caught wind of this wave of woo headed our way (we’re based in Chicago) and we decided, with two days notice, to mobilize and counter protest… and we did!  I did not personally attend the counter protest, as I had to teach today, but I and many others were working behind the scenes to help organize it.

The word went out like wildfire across the Internet – via email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and message boards – and we were able to gather a group of about 10 people there.  In addition, our WTFF ninjas were able to hand out plenty of pro-vaccine literature to passers-by who might have otherwise thought that Wakefield and his ilk weren’t batcrap crazy.  Here are some examples of our handouts we whipped up as part of WTFF’s new “Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated!” campaign…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments »

Vaccine Court Finds No Link to Autism

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 13, 2010

Breaking news just in from CNN – good news for science-based medicine and skeptics, bad news for alt-med, anti-vaccine nutwads like Jenny McCarthy. It’s interesting what happens when these issues are hashed out in a court where evidence & logical reasoning are required for argumentation, as opposed to the usual overly-emotional & irrational nonsense spouted by the anti-vaxxers in public.  Of course, just wait until they start moaning about how the vaccine court is part of the Big Pharma / Big Medicine / Big Government conspiracy, and that’s why they lost (and definitely not because they are deluded or driven by ideology – nah, couldn’t be that!)

What is the vaccine court?

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was established in 1988. Through the program, known as the “vaccine court,” people who believe they suffered injury as a result of compulsory childhood vaccines may petition the federal government for monetary damages. The claims are decided by the Office of Special Masters, a part of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Here’s the article from CNN…

Vaccine Court Finds No Link to Autism

A federal court ruled Friday that the evidence supporting an alleged causal link between autism and a mercury-containing preservative in vaccines is unpersuasive, and that the families of children diagnosed with autism are not entitled to compensation.

Special masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims released more than 600 pages of findings after reviewing three test cases and finding all the claims wanting.

“Petitioners’ theory of vaccine-related causation is scientifically unsupportable,” wrote Special Master Patricia Campbell-Smith in her conclusion about William P. Mead, whose parents, George and Victoria Mead, had brought one of the suits.

“In the absence of a sound medical theory causally connecting William’s received vaccines to his autistic condition, the undersigned cannot find the proposed sequence of cause and effect to be logical or temporally appropriate. Having failed to satisfy their burden of proof under the articulated legal standard, petitioners cannot prevail on their claim of vaccine-related causation.”

Read more…

But if you think this is the final word on the subject, think again – also a recent related story from CNN…

Supreme Court accepts appeal over vaccine safety

Parents who say that a range of preventive vaccines given their young children can cause serious health problems will have their appeal heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The justices Monday agreed to decide whether drug makers can be sued outside a special judicial forum set up by Congress in 1986 to address specific claims about safety. The so-called vaccine court has handled such disputes and was designed to ensure a reliable, steady supply of the drugs by reducing the threat of lawsuits against pharmaceutical firms.

The questions in the latest case are whether such liability claims can proceed, if the vaccine-related injuries could have been avoided by better product design, and if federal officials had approved another, allegedly safer drug. Oral arguments in the dispute will be held in the fall.

Read more…

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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