Monday, February 1, 2016

The Precautionary Principle to an Absurd Degree

Every now and then, we hear about some event in the news. Sometimes it can cause unjustified panic, like when people in the U.S. started panicking about Ebola virus, despite the risk to the average American being next to nothing. Other times, it can cause realistic concern, such as we see among the people of Flint, Michigan, or among members of communities where there are disease outbreaks. Reactions to these events run the gamut from the rational to the irrational and absurd. There is always an emotional component, but how much we let our emotions or our reason dictate our responses influences where we fall on the spectrum. Do we panic? Are we reasonable? Callous? Compassionate?

I was reminded of this today through an interaction with someone on Twitter (which lately seems to be a rather fertile spot for blog material). Self-described libertarian and stay-at-home dad, @CalypsoWaxed linked to a story in the Daily Mail, apparently in an attempt to scare people about vaccines.

Despite the Mail being known for rather sub-par reporting and being prone to sensationalism, I gave the story a look. The title says a fair bit, "Paramedics called to secondary school as pupils fall ill and collapse after being given their vaccinations".

Monday, January 18, 2016

69 Doses...or Is It 53? Or Even Fewer?

Please note additional edits to this article, particularly those added after 2/3/16, with the publication of the new 2016 recommended schedule.
My deepest apologies to my readers for this rather long spell without any new posts. Work and real life both got rather too busy for me, and I just did not have the time or energy to write. It certainly isn't for a lack of topics. I have a couple that I would really like to get to, including at least one request. But to get back into the swing of things, I thought I'd start with something pretty easy.

The other day, I got into a discussion on Twitter with a naturopath by the name of Stephen M. Gibson. He caught my eye because he appeared to be using my post about package inserts to suggest that they are evidence that vaccines cause harm. Now, vaccine package inserts do list adverse reactions (i.e., something known to be caused by the product) discovered during clinical trials. They also include adverse events (i.e., something that occurs after using the product, but may or may not actually be caused by it) reported to the manufacturer after it has been put on the market. I tried to get Mr. Gibson to let me know which specific injuries he was concerned about. The best I got was him referring to Section 6 of the inserts (which, again, includes reports of things that are not necessarily caused by the vaccine) and that he's opposed to "Any. And every" bit listed in Section 6.

Click to enlarge.
But it wasn't his misuse of my post that really grabbed my attention and prompted this post. Rather, it was his claim that he has "read and studied the 69 vaccines package inserts in the Feds recommended list":

Click to enlarge.
Sixty-nine package inserts? Really? Where did he get this number?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Locked in Ignorance

The other day, I got into a discussion with someone calling for Congressional hearings on the DeStefano 2004 study that is the latest to-do in anti-vaccine circles. I won't go into the background; you can read about it here. Instead, I'll just present the Storify curation of tweets. My interlocutor just didn't understand what she had read. There is nothing wrong with that. We all have areas in which we lack the requisite knowledge to fully grasp the subject. The real trick is figuring out where we are ignorant and put in the effort to learn and grow. I'm presenting the whole conversation here in the hopes that others might learn from it. It's a bit long, but it gives a good pictures of how our preconceptions can lock us into a state of ignorance.

Here are a few resources for your reference as you read through this.
Ignorance is not bad, unless we make no effort to overcome it. Being wrong is not bad, unless we do not accept that we are wrong.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What does the dox say?

The other day, a friend of mine wrote a blog post about how an anti-vaccine Facebook page was taken over by someone who worked their way up to admin privileges, locked out all of the other admins, and then started posting goat memes, a practice known as "goating". My friend had been invited to take part, but by the time he took a look, the goating was well underway. All he did was write up a blog post describing what had happened, mentioned in passing that he had enjoyed watching events unfold, and giving a history of how goating started.

And for that, he was doxed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Donald Trump's "Massive" Vaccines

This will be a very brief post. As I was reading Orac's post about Donald Trump's anti-vaccine musings, one thing kept jumping out at me. Trump kept talking about "massive shots" that kids get, going so far as to say that "tiny children are not horses". I get the impression that Trump has either never seen an actual vaccine syringe or he is so terrified of needles that when he did see one, his interpretation of reality was so warped he imagined it to be some huge monstrosity.

At any rate, I put this image together to illustrate what I think is going on in Trump's mind. Enjoy.

Oh, and as a side note, do you know how hard it is to find images of doctors practicing good hand hygiene by wearing gloves while administering a vaccine?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ethan Posard's The Shots Book

Be a community immunity superhero!
I meant to do this post at the beginning of the month. I really did. But life finds ways of interfering. In case you didn't know, August is National Immunization Awareness Month. I've posted stuff for NIAM before, like my lineup of vaccine preventable disease wanted posters. I've also written other posts for past Vaccine Awareness Weeks that could fit in well with NIAM, too, like the myth that if vaccines work, then it doesn't matter if you vaccinate your kid or not. Some years, though, I've let August slip past without writing anything specifically for NIAM, even though I have written posts with some vaccination issue as the main topic.

Not this year. I could write about outbreaks of diseases or the activities of the anti-vaccine movement, but I'd rather keep things nice and positive, at least for now. In July, I received a review copy of The Shots Book: A Little Brother's Superhero Tale, by Ethan Posard. Rather than publishing a post about the book right away, I wanted to hold off until Immunization Awareness Month. Then, as sometimes happens, life decided to muck up my good intentions and delay me for a while. Better late than never, right?

Ethan is the younger brother of Camille Posard, one of the talented young high schoolers who wrote and produced the film Invisible Threat, which I discussed last year. Although the film was met with exceptionally harsh criticism from the anti-vaccine movement (without their even having viewed the documentary), the teens who produced it proudly stood up to the bullies that tried to silence them and shut down screenings. One portion of the film follows Ethan as he goes in for one of his scheduled shots, and it's that experience with both the shot and the film that inspired him to write this book.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Are You Weird? Not on the Internet! #NeverWeird

Nothing weird or dorky to see here.
Ever feel like you don't quite belong? That something you do, or something you're interested in sets you apart from other people, but not necessarily in a positive way? I've certainly felt that way. I geek out about something or make some dorky joke and just get blank stares, or people suddenly find something intensely interesting somewhere else. Before sci-fi and fantasy were considered acceptable fare by the general public, I was into dragons and magic. I liked Star Trek. Hours ticked by while I played games on my computer. And role-playing games? When, where, and what type of character is needed? Don't play? I'll show you the ropes. Online role-playing games? Woot! I spent a number of years playing a MUD (multi-user dungeon, basically a text-based online game) originally named "F-----" (sorry, gotta avoid infringing on a trademark owned by some ocean-adjacent spellcasters). Eventually, I moved on to be a builder, creating large portions of the world. When the trademark owners decided they wanted to get in on this whole online gaming thing, giving an ultimatum to the owner of the MUD to buy a license or shut down, I spent a hectic several days converting the entire world to remove any trademarked words and change descriptions. I spent hours every day playing, building, and running quests. After a few years, the game took a hiatus. Although I helped start it up again, I realized that it took over too much of my life and that I had to give it up. I scaled way back, ultimately quitting the game.

But no matter how geeky my interests, I still held back a little bit so I could "fit in" (sorta) with "regular" people (not to mention my fear of getting sucked into something that would eat up all of my free [and not-so-free] time). And because of that, I wasn't quite geeky enough for the geeks. The really hard core gamers? I might as well have had three heads when I showed any lack of knowledge about the latest game. I'm weird. And I'm proud of that.

The internet, however, is something of an equalizer. No matter what your interests, no matter how odd your sense of humor, you will find a community online that accepts you and welcomes you for who you are. Online, you never have to worry about being "weird". That's one of the big messages in Felicia Day's new book, You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost).

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Who Chooses? Parents' vs. Children's Rights

There's a topic that I've touched on a few times over the years here, but I've never really delved into it. It's something that comes up pretty frequently in discussions of children's health, particularly when talking about vaccines or so-called alternative medicine. It's even something that arises around issues of which real treatment a child should receive. I've mentioned it in passing in posts about vaccines (e.g., when talking about why it actually does matter to others if you vaccinate your child, how anti-vaccine people want to change legislation, or how they oppose what they see as government interference), as well as my discussion about a case involving controversy over competing diagnoses. Others have also written about it in the context of cancer treatment. A common element in all of these topics is autonomy: the right to make decisions about one's own healthcare. More specifically, do parents own their children? Do parents have the freedom and the right to do with their children as they please? Or are parents merely guardians and stewards for their children until they are mature enough to make decisions on their own? Where do parental rights end and the child's rights begin?

Recently, this notion came up again in response to a post on Reddit, in which a mother, who is opposed to vaccines and did not vaccinate any of her children, relates how she discovered her eldest daughter got herself vaccinated in secret, much to the mother's chagrin. She asks if she can take any legal action.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jim Carrey's The Bad Tweet

Did you learn nothing from this movie, Jim?
[Update 7/2/15 at 6:30pm: Jim Carrey has removed the tweets mentioned below and replaced them with text-only tweets. He has not tweeted any apologies.]
Oh, Jim Carrey. Not content to be a fool on screen, you decide to (continue) to be a fool on Twitter. After the passage and signing of California's SB277, a new law that removes non-medical exemptions to school immunization requirements, Carrey went on a bit of a rant on Twitter, declaring the law fascist (it's not), playing the Pharma Shill Gambit, the toxin gambit, and, like so many other anti-vaccine activists, declaring he's not anti-vaccine. In short, he's just following the anti-vaccine handbook. But he wasn't content to keep it to just being mildly unhinged. But I'll get to that in a bit.

I first became aware of Carrey's anti-vaccine nonsense back in 2009, when Carrey was with anti-vaccine spokesperson Jenny McCarthy. For a while, Phil Plait, aka the Bad Astronomer, had occasionally written about the anti-vaccine movement. Like clockwork, anti-vaccine activists would show up in the comments spouting the same tired tropes over and over. It prompted me to write up a summary addressing the more common myths around vaccines. It's helped some learn the truth and facts about vaccines and exposed many of the lies told about them.

Apparently Jim Carrey didn't bother reading it, or, if he did, he didn't learn a thing. So what has he done this time around that went beyond merely making a fool of himself and showed that he is an opportunistic and insensitive ass that doesn't really care about those affected by autism?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

SB277 Signed! Congratulations, California!

June 30, 2015 - A happy day for California children!
This is just a very brief post to celebrate the triumph of science and public health over the fear and lies of the anti-vaccine movement. On June 30, 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB277 into law. As I mentioned briefly before, SB277 ensures that only medical exemptions will be allowed for school immunization requirements. California has joined Mississippi and West Virginia as the only three states in the country that put children's health above misguided personal and superstitious beliefs.

In his signing statement (PDF), Gov. Brown noted the importance of vaccines and the science that supports their use:
The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases. While it's true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community...

...Thus, SB277, while requiring that school children be vaccinated, explicitly provides an exception when a physician believes that circumstances - in the judgement and sound discretion of the physician - so warrant.
My thanks go out to Senators Pan and Allen for shepherding this bill through the California legislature, to all of the senators and assembly members who voted for this bill, the parents and activists who supported their efforts, and Gov. Brown for signing it. You have all done an amazing thing to protect the health of California's most vulnerable population.