Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It's That Time o' Year

As the title says, it's that time of year again. Many holidays just happen to fall right around now: Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Saturnalia, Festivus, Solstice and so on. Some of these involve the giving of gifts. Some do not. Some parts of the world lie covered in snow and ice (unless you happen to be in certain parts of New England this year and haven't seen any dusting of snow stick around...not that I'm bitter or anything). Some celebrate with a glass of wine in the sun. It also just happens to be the end of the tax year.

I brought this up a couple years ago and thought it could use a bit of a repeat.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sandy Hook and Specious Reasoning

Most of my readers are probably from the U.S., but for those outside of the country who may not have heard yet, this past Friday, December 14, a 20-year-old man shot and killed his mother in her home and, with a Bushmaster .233-calibre semi-automatic rifle and pistols that his mother had purchased legally, went on to an elementary school, where he shot and killed twenty children ages 6-7 years old and six adults, including the school's principal. Searches of "Adam Lanza" and "Sandy Hook" will immediately bring up post after post on the massacre, as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of comments on whether there should be tighter gun controls put in place or whether more guns would make incidents like these less likely to occur.

I've been thinking about this event quite a bit and debating whether or not to write a post about it. This is one of those topics that, no matter what you say, you're sure to get someone disagreeing with you, if not taking a more aggressive stance. It's a hot button issue. So, I'm going to try to lay out my thoughts in as reasonable a manner as possible to try to engender at least respectful discourse.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Calling on Congress to Do the Wrong Thing

Oh, Age of Autism. Once again, this rag that calls itself a web newspaper of the autism epidemic ignores science and providing real help and support for families with autism in favor of unsubstantiated hyperbole and appeals to politics. Since they do not have actual science behind their claims, they try to use political means to get their way, freely ignoring reality.

Feeling that, perhaps, they made some small victories after the recent Congressional hearing on autism, the fact-challenged are making some demands suggestions to our legislative body. In a post titled Top 10 List for Congress Post Autism Hearing, contributor Laura Hayes addresses Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL) and includes a list of ten things she would like Congress to do. I'm not quite certain whether to chuckle at how inane it is or worry, since the hearing included more than one science-challenged Congresscritter.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Get Out and Vote

This morning, I headed out the door early to make sure I could get to my polling place before the doors opened and ensure I wouldn't have to wait in line very long to vote. This election is very important, and not just because of the presidential race. Senate and House races can have a very, very big impact on where this country goes and how we interact with the rest of the world. And don't slouch on the local stuff, either. What you decide at your city or state level can work its way up the chain. Be smart. Get informed. But most importantly, vote!

Edited to add: If you are having trouble at the polling place and someone is keeping you from voting or in any way getting in the way of your right to vote, report them to the Department of Justice. On Twitter @TheJusticeDept. Call 1-800-253-3931 or go to their website.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Mark Geier On His Last Leg

Dr. Mark Robin Geier, about whom I've written about quite a bit, just can't get a break. Geier is the physician who, after reading a single lab study showing that mercury binds with testosterone when in a hot benzene environment (blogger Prometheus has a good write-up of this), thought that this explained how to treat autism. At the time Geier and his son, David (who has gotten in trouble for pretending to be a doctor), latched onto the two ideas that the mercury in thimerosal and testosterone played a role in autism causation. The former is now discredited, after numerous studies comparing autism rates in children who received thimerosal-containing vaccines and those who did not, as well as failed court cases based on this idea. The latter does have some validity to it, but only insofar as the fetus is exposed to high concentrations of testosterone in the womb. The way Geier, père et fils, decided they could treat autism based on this study that bears no resemblance to the environment of the human body, was to use the chemical castrating drug Lupron to lower testosterone levels in kids, followed by dosing with chelating drugs to remove mercury.

It was this treatment protocol that got the Geiers into trouble, first in Maryland. Dr. Geier was found to have been misdiagnosing autistic children with precocious puberty so he could get insurance companies to pay for his treatment, which also happens to be in violation of FDA regulations. Lupron is not approved by the FDA for use in the treatment of autism, so his spurious precocious puberty diagnoses got around this, as well. At any rate, this protocol, among other problems with how he ran his clinic, resulted in his license being suspended. The investigation also turned up that his son, David, practiced medicine without a license by making diagnoses and prescribing various tests and procedures to patients. The original suspension led to nearly every other state in which Mark Geier was licensed to suspend his licenses. Then in September and October ofearlier this year, Maryland, Indiana and Washington went beyond suspension and permanently revoked his license. Hawaii, Illinois and Missouri, however, have been dragging their feet.

Until now.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Demystifying Vaccine Ingredients - MSG

Telling people what a product contains can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it introduces transparency and empowers people to learn more about the products they use or plan to use. On the other, most people have absolutely no clue what those ingredients do or why they're used. This often leads to gross misunderstanding and misplaced fear. We see this frequently with packaged foods. Any ingredient that is hard to pronounce or sounds all chemically is viewed askance. This is compounded when it comes to medicinal drugs, which use the isolated, purified substance that performs a very specific function; the unpurified origins frequently contain hundreds or thousands of other chemicals that may lead to unwanted effects (e.g., compare asiprin to raw willow bark or digoxin to whole foxglove).

Vaccines are a very prominent example of this fear of chemicals (and just to get this out of the way, everything in the world is some chemical or combination of chemicals). Earlier this year, I wrote about one vaccine ingredient, formaldehyde, in an effort to clear up why and how it is used in vaccines, as well as showing that the amounts found in vaccines are safe. Just the Vax and Science-Based Medicine also have good write-ups on the preservative. Recently, someone asked me about another ingredient: monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Candid Interview with Age of Unreason Minister of Truth Nancy Bashful

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Age of Unreason's Minister of Truth, Nancy Bashful. I knocked on the door of her suburban home, glancing off to the gardens to my right as the smell of manure from nearby farms wafted through the air. I was greeted by this middle aged midwestern mother with her short, bottle blonde hair. I couldn't tell whether the smug, self-satisfied smirk was her natural expression or one she put on for my benefit.

Ms. Bashful welcomed me in and led me to a well-worn sofa, the kind that sort of swallows you in and threatens to show you just where missing nickels and stale Chex Mix go. She settled herself at a small desk that sported a dusty Dell Inspiron, its cooling fan wheezing like an asthmatic in an iron lung. A television in the corner blared QVC, gaudy paste jewelry and kitschy porcelain figurines parading across the screen. She lowered the volume and turned toward me, keeping one eye on her monitor's strobing screen.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Making a Lancet Replica

This post is going to be a bit of a departure from my usual writing. You'll be spared my ramblings about vaccines, law, ethics and censorship. Instead, I thought I would put up a post documenting how I went about making a prop for my Halloween costume this year. Hopefully I won't give away too much about what my costume is going to be before it's time to be revealed.

A good costume is more than just the clothes you wear or a mask. It's also important to pay attention to the details. What kind of props are you going to add on? How accurate are you going to be? What materials are you going to use? For my costume, I really wanted to add on a lancet or fleam, devices that were once used for bloodletting, the belief being that bleeding a patient would balance the humours and heal them of whatever disease they happened to have. In nearly every instance, this was pure nonsense, and frequently dangerous, sometimes fatally so. At any rate, I had a couple options: buy one or make my own. Real lancets were hard to find, fleams a bit easier, and both were rather more than I wanted to spend.

Based on the pictures I was able to find, fleams seemed a bit too complex for me. Not only did I not have the metalworking skills they seemed to required, I just didn't have the tools. The lancet looked much easier, though I did need to do a bit more research on how to add a handle. Some quick googling on how to put handles on knives and I was ready to start. A quick run to the local big box hardware store, then time to get to work.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Parents' School Vaccination Lawsuit in WV Dismissed

This year has seen quite a bit of anti-vaccine sabre rattling when it comes to state laws and rules around school vaccinations. We saw Vermont trying to strengthen public health by eliminating philosophical exemptions, which was met by a fact-challenged tirade from a homeopath. That aspect failed, but requirements were put into place that parents review educational materials and attest to understanding the risks their decisions have not only for their kids, but for the community at large. In California, a bill was introduced requiring that parents get a signed statement from a health care provider indicating that the provider discussed the risks and benefits of vaccination (and vaccine refusal) with parents before a philosophical exemption will be granted. That bill was signed into law, despite anti-vaccine activists erroneously claiming that it violated and removed parental choice, revealing that they really are not in favor of informed consent. There had also been another bill that California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed that would have required clinic employees to get the flu vaccine or take other reasonable precautions to minimize the risks of influenza in a health care setting. That bill (SB1318) is back with the Senate for consideration of the governor's veto.

And then there was the activity in West Virginia back in August. When I was launching my series of Vaccine Preventable Disease Wanted Posters, I mentioned in passing that a group of parents were suing the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) over a new requirement that 7th graders and high school seniors get a Tdap booster and meningococcal vaccine. Well, there's been a new development with that.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Debating Physician-Assisted Suicide in Massachusetts

It's election season. And you know what that means: lots of vague generalities that sound like they mean something, ad hominem attacks, creativity with facts and annoying ad after annoying ad. Oh, and topics that get people really worked up, causing people to heatedly argue with each other, often to the point of intense anger. Many of these really are not worth fighting about and, regardless of the outcome, have little, if any, significance. Others, however, really are important and worth resolving and involve difficult ethical issues.

In Massachusetts, one such ethical conundrum is on the ballot: physician-assisted suicide.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Washington Joins Indiana and Maryland in Revoking Mark Geier's License

 Washington has become the third state to permanently revoke Dr. Mark Geier's medical license. This comes shortly after Maryland finally revoked Geier's licence. The Washington Medical Quality Assurance Commission had ordered Geier and/or his attorney to appear and to produce certain documents. They did not do so in the time frame specified, so by default, Geier has lost his case.

The Commission ordered (M2012-377) on October 4, 2012, that Mark Geier's license to practice medicine in the state of Washington is permanently revoked. He is ordered to hand over all licenses within 10 days and is fined $5,000, payable within 30 days.

Meanwhile, Missouri, Illinois and Hawaii have yet to do anything to stop this man from preying on autistic children in their jurisdictions. This is, however, very welcome news.
Related Posts:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rob Schneider's Hellish Nonsense

Thursday night, I mentioned that Rob Schneider was going to be on Salt Lake City's KXRK morning radio show Radio From Hell to promote his stand-up show Friday night at Wiseguys West Valley City. I joined Skepchick's Elyse Anders in urging people to contact the station if they had a call-in segment during the interview. Orac also put the word out about this appearance.

Well, I was fortunate enough to find time to listen to the show Friday morning via their internet live stream. As noted by Elyse, Schneider had been on the show before, shamelessly spouting a bunch of tired, well-worn anti-vaccine lies and myths. This morning, he was a bit late showing up at the studio, which I don't blame him for; it was early, he mentioned he only had about 3 hours sleep, and we don't know what his travel and traffic situation was.  The hosts, led by Bill Allred, pondered whether they should just rerun the clip (mp3 hosted at Skepchick) from the last time he was on.

At any rate, he finally showed up to sit down for a chat...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Robbing the Airways of Intelligent Thoughts

Just a brief post to let you all know that Elyse over at Skepchick has an action alert out. Tomorrow, October 5, at 7am MDT (9am EDT), the new Jenny McCarthy of the anti-vaccine movement, Rob Schneider, will be on radio KXRK, Radio X96 in Salt Lake City, probably to promote his comedy show playing at Wiseguys West Valley City the same evening.

I call him the new Jenny McCarthy because, well, he is a celebrity of similar stature who has latched on to the anti-vaccine movement, spouting much of the same, easily refuted nonsense, like this:

Click here to find out why Rob's question is dumb.
He recently spoke out against California's bill AB2109 at a failed rally on the California state house steps (the bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on September 30), which would help to ensure parents are fully informed about vaccines before they make a decision to put their child and community at increased risk of disease by opting out of school immunization requirements.

At any rate, if you are in the area or have time to listen online, give the station a call with some comments or questions for Rob. Elyse provides some links to help inform you, but here are a some more:
Also check out Just the Vax, Shot of Prevention and History of Vaccines.

Monday, October 1, 2012

AB2109 Signed! But Gov. Brown Creates Other Concerns

On Thursday, I echoed Orac in his call for people to support California's Gov. Jerry Brown in signing AB2109 into law. This bill would help strengthen California's school vaccination laws by requiring that parents become informed about the risks and benefits of vaccinating prior to getting a personal belief exemption for their children. Anti-vaccine activists vehemently opposed this bill, showing that they are actually against informed consent. They even recruited comedian Rob Schneider as their new Jenny McCarthy, acting as a celebrity spokesperson to champion their nonsense. And based on my twitter exchanges with him, he's swallowed their tripe hook, line and sinker.

I spent the weekend mostly off-line, so I missed a rather big development in all of this. As user "Unknown" commented on my call to arms, Gov. Brown signed the bill! This is fabulous news, but it's tempered with a bit of, well, if not bad news, at least something a little perplexing.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Call to Arms

Orac, over at Respectful Insolence, has called on those of a scientific bent to take action on two important issues. First off, investigative journalist, Brian Deer, will be speaking at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse on October 4 and 5. Brian Deer, you may recall, is a U.K. journalist who has harshly criticized pharmaceutical companies and who uncovered the research fraud committed by Andrew Wakefield. The anti-vaccine activists at Age of Autism have encouraged their followers to rally against Mr. Deer and to support a press conference that Andrew Wakefield will be giving on October 4, also at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. Here are the details about both:

Brian Deer's Talks
  • "An Elaborate Fraud: The MMR Vaccine & Autism"
  • Thursday, October 4 at 5:30pm
  • Centennial Hall, Room 1309 
  • "Stiletto Journalism: Busting the Vaccine Scare"
  • Friday, October 5 at 3:30pm
  • Centennial Hall, Room 1309
Andrew Wakefield's Press Conference
The other item that need your support is AB2109, about which I've written before (here and here). As a quick reminder, this bill would require parents who want a philosophical exemption for their children from school immunization requirements to talk with a medical provider about the risks and benefits of vaccination, and the risks of not vaccinating for both themselves and their community. The bill has passed both the California State Senate and Assembly. It is currently on Governor Jerry Brown's desk, waiting to be signed. A vocal contingent of anti-vaccine activists and Tea Partiers are holding a rally to oppose this legislation tomorrow, September 28 from noon to 2pm on the West Steps of the state capitol. If you live nearby, I urge you to attend in counter-protest to voice your support for this bill. I also encourage you to contact Gov. Brown, asking him to sign AB2109.

If you decide to attend any of these events, please remember to remain civil. Do not be goaded by the anti-vaccine activists you are likely to encounter.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Grand Coverup

This weekend I saw something that surprised and amused me: a blue jay hiding some food. It wasn't the fact that it hid its food, though, that got me. Many animals hide food, squirreling (ha!) it away to consume later. This could be anything from just digging a hole, depositing the food and burying it again to stockpiling in a hole in a tree branch. And this behavior is not unknown among blue jays, either.

Clever boy. Photo by Dick Daniels
No. What brought a smirk to my face was how this bird went about stashing his goods.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mark Geier's License Revoked - And It's About Damn Time!

Today, Catherina over at Just the Vax, let me know about a development on a topic that I've been covering for quite some time. And the timing of this is rather fortuitous, as this post marks number 250 for me! I couldn't think of a better subject than to enlighten you all on the latest turn for the infamous Dr. Mark Geier, the physician who inappropriately used the precious puberty and chemical castration drug Lupron to supposedly treat children with autism.

What is this latest development? The Maryland Board of Physicians has (finally!) revoked Dr. Geier's medical license.
File this under: about damn time.
And the order that accompanies this is scathing.

Monday, September 10, 2012

One Size Fits All Vaccination

There are a number of frequent refrains heard from those opposed to vaccines. There are too many. Oh, the toxins! If vaccines work, then what are you worried about? Vaccination laws take away parents' rights. The list goes on and on. They get repeated so often that it becomes very easy to just gloss over them and ignore the strident ululations of anti-vaccine activists. Between posting here and commenting on various blogs and news stories, I feel like I've addressed these arguments (if you can call them that) more than enough times. But then I remember that as long as the noise keeps going, there will be a need for reality-based individuals to speak out against them.

Recently, one such complaint caught my interest a little more than usual. Perhaps it was because I happened to be rereading the CDC Pink Book at the time. Much is made among anti-vaccine types of personal liberties and how each person is different. Every little snowflake is precious and unique, they opine, so how can anyone support a "one size fits all" vaccination schedule?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Censored on Dan Olmsted at Autism One on The Wakefield Inquisition

It's been a while since I've put one of these posts up. One of my readers tried to leave a comment over at Age of Autism on the post Dan Olmsted at Autism One on The Wakefield Inquisition. I'm putting this up so that any comments which the moderators at AoA censor can still see the light of a computer screen. If you have tried to leave a comment on that post but were censored, feel free to copy your comment below. Include the date and time that you tried to post, if you can.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Complete VPD Wanted Poster Lineup

I hope you enjoyed the Vaccine Preventable Disease Wanted Posters and found them informative. They are meant to be educational materials, presented in an easily approachable manner. As I mentioned before, if you would like a print version of the posters, either as a poster or as a card, please let me know.

For ease of reference, here are all 16 posters (after the break).

Wanted: Rubeola morbillivirus

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wanted: Rubella virus

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wanted: Mumps

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wanted: Influenza

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information. I can also provide it in electronic format for printing on regular 8.5"x11" paper.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Wanted: Varicella zoster virus

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wanted: Poliovirus

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Parental Age, Autism and Schizophrenia

I first heard about some interesting news a couple days ago on Twitter. An acquaintance of mine, @UAJamie posted a link to a New York Times article reporting on some very recent research into possible causes of disorders like autism and schizophrenia. In the past year or so, there have been studies suggesting that the age of the parents may play a role in the risk of autism, but no clear connection has been made, let alone any reason that such should be the case.

In "Father's Age Linked to Risk of Autism and Schizophrenia", we learn about a new study finding that the older the father (but not the mother) is, the greater the risk of autism and schizophrenia. The reason? The older the father is at the time the child is conceived, the greater the number of genetic mutations. A very interesting finding, but it raises some questions. Unfortunately, the full article published in Nature, Rate of de novo mutations and the importance of father's age to disease risk, is behind a pay wall, so I have to rely on the abstract and news reports. With that in mind, let's dig in.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Wanted: Streptococcus pneumoniae

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wanted: Neisseria meningitidis and Human papillomavirus

Neisseria meningitidis image from the Public Health Image Library. Human papillomavirus image from NCI Visuals Online. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mark "Castrate 'Em" Geier's License Suspended - Part 7

The bad news just keeps coming for Dr. Mark Geier and his son, David. I recently wrote about the Maryland Department of Physicians finding that David Geier practiced medicine without a license and was fined $10,000 (with, in my admittedly non-expert opinion, the potential for further fines and jail time), as well as Dr. Geier's license being challenged in Hawaii and his application for a license in Ohio rejected.

Catherina at Just the Vax alerted me to some very recent news. Today, she posted some excerpts from meeting minutes of the Florida Board of Medicine. It looks like Florida is the latest state to suspend his license (Final Order here; if the link doesn't work, you can look up the documents here), including administrative and punitive fines. It appears that Dr. Geier entered into a settlement with the state of Florida, agreeing to abide by their suspension of his license and waiving all rights to further appeal or challenge of their decision.

Wanted: Hepatitis B

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wanted: Hepatitis A

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Wanted: Rotavirus A

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wanted: Haemophilus influenzae type B

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Fall of the Geiers Continues Apace

A brief break in the posters to bring you some updates on the Geier front. As you have no doubt read by now, David Geier, son of Dr. Mark Geier, has been found by the Maryland Board of Physicians (PDF) to have practiced medicine without a license. His penalty? A $10,000 fine. As Dr. Steven Novella wrote at Neurologica Blog, this is not a huge sum of money, as far as penalties go. The order mentions that the Board took into account:

Wanted: Clostridium tetani

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wanted: Corynebacterium diphtheriae

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wanted: Bordetella pertussis

Image from the Public Health Image Library. Logo design by Maggie McFee. More VPD Wanted Poster details here. If you are interested in a print version (16"x20" poster or 4"x5" card), please email me for more information.

Getting to Know You - Pathogen Edition

August is Immunization Awareness Month, and I've admittedly been slacking off on the posts this month, largely because I've been very busy, but also due to a project I've been working on for all of you. There's a lot going on. If you haven't heard, there's a pertussis epidemic in several states, driven by a variety of factors (adults not getting boosters, teens whose immunity has lapsed, people refusing vaccines etc.). In West Virginia, several families are suing the state Department of Health and Human Services over a new requirement that high schoolers be required to get a Tdap booster, despite the secretary having the authority to propose rules regulating the "sanitary condition of all institutions and schools" (WV Code 16-1-4), not to mention being charged with the responsibility of controlling communicable diseases (WV Code 16-3), which includes the compulsory immunization of children, unless they have a valid medical reason to not be immunized. Then, of course, there was the recent court decision, throwing out Wakefield's libel suit against Brian Deer, Fiona Godlee and the BMJ on the grounds that Texas has no jurisdiction to hear the case. Not to mention elsewhere in the world suffering from outbreaks of preventable diseases that kill.

So like I said, there's a lot going on in the world regarding vaccines. I figured that Immunization Awareness Month presented an excellent opportunity to finally finish and release the project I've been working on. As important as it is to understand and be aware of the routine vaccines that are on the recommended list in the U.S. and elsewhere, it's also important to understand the diseases that these vaccines prevent. To that end, I've compiled information on the 16 diseases we are currently able to prevent through immunization, much of the information culled from the CDC's Pink Book. Every week day, for the rest of August, I will be posting a wanted poster for each disease at noon, EDT. I hope you find them useful and informative. And, if anyone is interested in print copies, I will make them freely available (though I'd see it as a kindness to send in a donation to an autism charity, such as the Autism Science Foundation, the Lurie Center for Autism, or to support vaccine research like that done at the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center) in either 16" x 20" poster form or 4" x 5" card format. Just use the email link over to the right to get in touch with me. It would also be great if you could share the posts far and wide via Twitter, Facebook and whatever other social media you enjoy.

Special thanks to Maggie McFee for helping me with the logo design. Thanks also to the folks at the Public Health Image Library for keeping such a wonderful collection of images.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Getting Back to Nature

It's good to get away from everything now and then. An opportunity to recharge, relax and forget about all of those things that cause stress. What better than to get out in nature for a bit to take in fresher air free, free from the cloistering atmosphere of the city? Enjoy the forests and birds. See the stars you can't see past the glow of civilization.

That's what I did this past week, which, for those paying attention, explains my recent absence from cyberspace. Five days of camping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, with no computer at hand and no way for work to contact me was simply amazing. I was able to experience a number of different things that no amount of photography or video can portray adequately, and even words fail to fully encompass.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

You Have No Voice

It's been a while since I've written about something I've read over at the Age of Autism blog. Frankly, I haven't frequented it nearly as much lately, partly because they have steadily drifted more and more into the fringe, with posts that simply boggle the mind. I will readily admit that I do admire the passion that they bring to the table, but that is no justification for the vitriol, misinformation and outright quackery they frequently promote. What drew me over there this morning was learning that an autistic adult, writing under the 'nym Autistic Lurker, had made some comments there and, as is usual with the AoA crowd, getting piled on, criticised and accused of not being who they said they were. This was on a post by Dan "I can't find the Amish autists" Olmstead titled The IACC (I Am Completely Clueless) Meets Again . The post basically amounts to a diatribe about how the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee is a horrible bureaucracy (granted) that is wasting its time and money following scientific evidence rather than, as all the folks at AoA just know is true, doing research proving that vaccines did it.

If you're interested in a long, long wall of text that amounts to, "Why won't you do what a very small portion of the autism community wants you to do!?", click on the link above and take a gander. I'm not going to go into detail about it. Rather, I'm going to talk about one of the comments on the post. It's a comment that, when I read it, I was, quite literally, stunned. For several moments, I could do nothing but stare at my monitor. This was followed in quick succession by feelings of disbelief, disgust and outrage. The comment encapsulates the derogatory view that, it seems, many in the AoA echo chamber have of disabilities in general and autism in particular.

Praying, in Vain, for Exemption

In polite conversation, especially with strangers, there are some topics that you should just avoid. Anything related to politics or religion can, unless you really know your audience, produce rather, shall we say, heated disagreements. Okay, let's be real. When politics and religion come up, people can get vehemently argumentative. There tends to be such a strong personal investment in political and religious beliefs that to question the belief is seen as somehow questioning or even denigrating the individual. From personal experience, it's hard to avoid that even when sticking to the facts and avoiding personal opinion. So people tend to steer clear of such conversation topics in order to play nice, keep the peace and avoid jeopardizing friendships.

Vaccines have become a topic similar to politics and religion. Anytime I meet someone new and the subject arises (and even with good friends, on occasion), there's always this sense of trepidation. Has the person I'm talking to read something on the interwebz that they found convincing enough to distrust vaccines? How personally invested are they? If they've been fooled by anti-vaccine propaganda (which, admittedly, can be quite convincing to someone who has not been following things for a while), what arguments will they use to justify their beliefs? The rationalizations will very likely draw politics or religion (or both) into the mix, and given how intertwined are personal identity and political/religious beliefs, sticking solely to facts and reason aren't likely to sway the person. In such cases, fighting fire with fire, so to speak, might work, but it's a risky proposition, especially when using religious arguments.

The problem is that once you start bringing religion into an argument dealing with non-religious policies and topics, you get bad religion and bad policy. Take, for instance, a religiously-based list of anti-vaccine arguments [EDIT 8/12/14: updated link to a cached version of the page, as the original appears to have been taken down] recently forwarded to me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Anthrax - Not Just a Thrash Metal Band

The other day, I got into a bit of a back-and-forth on Twitter with some folks that question vaccines. I know, I know. Big surprise! One of those people was comedian Rob Schneider, who has recently come out as a vocal critic of California bill AB 2109, which would require parents to get informed about vaccines before they could get a personal belief exemption. Schneider chimed in with a rather bone-headed comment to me:

Or, "I probably didn't think things through, but I'm going to ask anyway."

This isn't a comment that really surprised me or threw me for a loop. I mean, I wrote about it back in November 2010 and reposted the article a little over a year later, since I noticed the argument being brought up yet again. Schneider's comment really just illustrates that he either has not really thought the question through, doesn't understand the subject, cares little to none for people around him or some combination of the above. Suffice it to say, there are very good reasons to be concerned about those who do not vaccinate.

But that's not what this post is about. Rather, it's in answer to a question asked by another person who, presumably, follows Mr. Schneider and saw my exchange with him. This person simply wondered what I thought about complications from the anthrax vaccine. This caught me off guard. I suspected there was probably a bit more behind what appeared to be a very simple question. And sure enough, there was. It wasn't just complications in general, but specifically a possible connection between the vaccine and autoimmune disorders, fatigue and hypersomnia. I had to admit that I didn't know much about anthrax vaccine, but I promised I'd look into it.

And so, here we find ourselves.

Friday, June 22, 2012

NSW Extends Free Pertussis Vaccine for New Mothers

About a month ago, Phil Plait wrote about the Victoria, Australia, Ministry of Health's decision to end a program that provides pertussis vaccine boosters for free to carers of newborns in an effort to protect infants from what can be, for them, a deadly disease. The reason cited was that the program did not "get the clinical result required". This move by the state of Victoria led Toni McCaffery, whose infant daughter, Dana, was killed by pertussis, to create a petition to the Premiers and Health Ministers of Australia to ask the states to continue to provide free pertussis vaccines to adults caring for newborns to help cocoon these infants until they are old enough to be vaccinated.

Well, the state of New South Wales has listened, to a degree.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mark "Castrate 'Em" Geier's License Suspended - Part 6

[Edited to add: Not sure how I missed this, but when checking out Dr. Geier's listing on the Florida Department of Health's site, it looks like his certification with the American Board of Medical Genetics has been revoked, as well.]

There's been another development in the case of Dr. Mark Geier, the physician who came up with the Lupron Protocol as a purported treatment for autism. Lupron, for those who don't know about it, is a drug that is used in prostate cancer treatment, fertility treatment, to treat precocious puberty and, off-label, to chemically castrate sex offenders. It shuts down production of sex hormones (testosterone in men, estrogen in women). The reason the Geiers use this drug is because they believe that testosterone and mercury bind together, making it more difficult for the body to eliminate the mercury in, for example, thimerosal-containing vaccines. This belief comes from a single study examining testosterone and mercury in hot benzene, which, for those who might be unaware, is a condition never found in the human body. Prometheus wrote about this back in 2006. Never mind that there is no quality evidence showing that in children with autism there is any of this testosterone-mercury binding going on, nor that using lupron (followed by chelation) has any benefit at all.

At any rate, Dr. Geier's erroneously diagnosing children with precocious puberty so he would be able to prescribe lupron, among other ethical and professional lapses, led to his license to practice medicine in Maryland being suspended. This, in turn, resulted in the licensing boards in a number of other states suspending his licenses, too. Which brings us to today.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The 10 Pro-vaccine Commandments According to Anti-vaccinationists

Ahhh. Taking a few days away from it all to visit with family and friends is always good. Even better is when you get to do all that and return to find a wee bit o' the hilarious sitting in your inbox. Liz Ditz brought to my attention a relatively new group on Facebook: Provax Quacks. This group is described thusly:
Pointing out the duplicity and idiocy of the vaccine enthusiasts since 2012! Content irrelevant to the pages [sic] theme will be removed. [Edited to add: It looks like the ones running the group removed that second sentence sometime June 13, 2012 (curse my lack of foresight to get a screen grab), but looking at the comments on some of their wall posts, they have clearly been deleting comments, as predicted.]
Right off the bat, they conveniently let you know that any fact-based comments that contradict their ideological line will be censored. That saves me a lot of time. I won't waste any effort trying to comment on this new echo chamber of anti-vaccine inanity. I will, however, share with my readers a rather hilarious wall post put up by this group. If you had any doubts that the members of this group have little to no understanding of science or logic, what you are about to see will make it all perfectly, readily clear. In fact, I probably don't even need to offer my own commentary, but I just can't resist.

Without further ado, then, I present Vaccinology 10 Commandments, as seen by anti-vaccinationists:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Report from HHS on Vaccine Storage

I heard something on the news this morning that I figured would get the anti-vaccine crowd into a fervor of excitement. It is something that they could spin to make it seem like vaccines really are dangerous or that they really don't protect people. Images leapt to mind of writers and commenters alike over at Age of Autism crying out, "See! We're not dumb for refusing vaccines!" Barbara Loe Fisher at the National Vaccine Information Center floated before my eyes, declaiming that vaccines are not safe. I could almost hear Mike Adams or Gary Null snidely claiming that this report proves (proves, I tell you!) that vaccines are ineffective. And so, I figured I should probably take a closer look into it before the wacky misinterpretations and outright lies began to flow.

What brought all this to mind? As reported by ABC news, some doctors may not be storing vaccines properly. The story is based on a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General (OIG), titled Vaccines for Children Program: Vulnerabilities in Vaccine Management (the PDF of the full report can be found here). Briefly, the OIG found that providers of vaccines made available through the CDC's Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) (a program that provides free vaccines to kids whose families might otherwise be unable to afford to get their child immunized) were frequently storing vaccines in inappropriate conditions, potentially reducing their potency and efficacy.

There are a couple ways that I could see this report being spun by opponents of vaccination. Let's take a look...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mostly Good News from Vermont

Back in March, I wrote about how Vermont was moving toward improved public health by putting forth a bill that, if passed,would eliminate philosophical exemptions from school and daycare immunization requirements, while still leaving religious and medical exemptions intact. After a considerable amount of going back and forth, in committee, out of committee, to the House, back to the Senate and so on, Senate bill S.199 was signed into law on May 16, 2012.

As with all things legal and political, there are positive aspects of the enacted law (PDF) as well as some negatives. The big negative, from my perspective, is that philosophical exemptions are still allowed in Vermont. But not all is doom and gloom. The various revisions the bill underwent added significantly to the school immunization laws, going beyond the simple issue of exemptions.

So, what all has changed?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Michigan Legislature Aims to Restrict Public Health

Now that Memorial Day has passed in the United States and I've had some time to get over last week's emotion-draining post, it seems like a good time to take a look at what lies ahead. What developments are in the works? Where is public health headed? We can expect the pertussis outbreaks in the U.S. to continue to spread, very likely including more pertussis deaths. We will likely see cases of measles imported from Europe. And we'll see public health officials work hard to prevent and contain outbreaks of disease.

Legislators, on the other hand, may need a bit of prodding.

In Michigan, it appears that the legislature is taking steps to make it harder for health care facilities to protect the health of their patients. A group of 11 republicans and 1 democrat have introduced legislation that aims to dictate to hospitals and other health facilities and agencies what they can and cannot do with regard to ensuring their staff are not a potential source of influenza infection.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

In Memoriam - U.S. Pertussis Deaths Through May 2012

Catherina over at Just the Vax gave us all a reminder of the real impact of pertussis, or whooping cough. In that vein, this post is in tribute to those who have lost their lives to pertussis this year. My heart goes out to all of these families. Please go out and get your boosters and learn what to look for.

In Memoriam

Brady Alcaide
Age 2 months

Name Unknown
Age 2 months

Francesca Marie McNally
Age 3 months

Ariel Renee Esther Salazar
Age 10 1/2 weeks
New Mexico

Kenadee Elizabeth Wilde
Age 9 weeks

Name Unknown
Age 1 month

Name Unknown
Age 1 month

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It's Just a Cold

The other day I shared a little bit of insight into how my brain works at times. Subject associations lead from one thing to another, and before you know it, what began as a relatively mundane musing has taken on cosmic proportions. I certainly never thought that, waking up with the beginnings of a cold, I would end up writing about how a lack of gravity would affect medical care in space.

At any rate, the common cold has been bounding about my head (both as a topic and somewhat more literally). While I've been fortunate in that I've only really had to deal with a stuffy nose and only a minor cough, some of my coworkers have been less fortunate. Some manner of respiratory illness has been making the rounds, resulting in some of my workmates having been home for a day or two, both before I got my cold, and after. Talking to them, some actually brought up the subject of pertussis, or whooping cough. No one really knew much about it or what the symptoms were, but it's been in the news a bit lately, with a current epidemic in Washington state (1,484 cases reported as of May 12 [PDF], 2012, compared to 965 cases in all of 2011 and 608 for all of 2010), as well as smaller outbreaks in other states like Montana (142 cases), Idaho (31 cases, including 1 death), Iowa (150 cases), Wisconsin (~1,900 cases, including 1 death), Maine (55 cases [PDF]), Florida (112 cases [PDF]) and others.

Washington pertussis cases through May 12, 2012

I figured it might be a good idea, then, to pull some stuff together about the differences between a cold and whooping cough.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cold Space

The other morning, I awoke with my nose deciding it didn't want to function properly and allow me to breathe through both nostrils. The harbinger of a cold, one nostril was stubbornly blocked with the various accumulations of the night. Lovely image, I know. Personally, I blame the exertion and physical stress (particularly the dunking in cold water and subsequent extreme chills) of the zombie run for this state of affairs. I mean, trudging through wet, muddy trails with hundreds of other people in relatively close proximity, dunking in icy water and waiting (soaked) for the better part of an hour in the breezy cool of a spring afternoon can't be all that good for you. Couple that with staying up late and waking early and voilà. A cold.

I actually have a point for relating this. You see, as I commuted to work and noticed my breathing passages start to open, I mused upon what a cold must be like in space. We take for granted that gravity helps our sinuses and nasal cavities drain. But in space, where there is no (or only a weak) gravitational field, would someone with a stuffy nose find absolutely no relief from natural drainage? How would the lack of gravity affect blowing one's nose? Would it be easier or harder?

As I pondered these questions, my mind began to drift toward bigger issues. I might be stepping on Phil Plait's area a bit, but I hope he won't mind. What about more serious medical care in space?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

After the Zombie Apocalypse

This past weekend, I ran the Run for Your Lives zombie 5K obstacle course. The race served a couple purposes for me: 1) it was a good motivation to get back into running on a semi-regular basis and 2) it served as a good hook to raise money for vaccine research. Just to recap, I was raising money for the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. Specifically, they have two projects that caught my attention: creating an improved cholera vaccine and developing a laser-based vaccine adjuvant. My goal was to raise $3,000, and toward that end, I issued a challenge that if I hit $2,000 by race day, I'd double my personal donation. I'll come back to this later.

First, the race.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Useful Interactive Map of Worlwide Disease Outbreaks

My news alerts have been populated, lately, with numerous stories about pertussis outbreaks in the U.S. The biggest, currently, appears to be in Washington state, with over 1,100 cases so far this year, compared to a total of 961 cases of pertussis for all of 2011. But Washington isn't the only state seeing outbreaks of pertussis. Most likely due to a combination of lower vaccine uptake rates coupled with teens and adults skipping their pertussis boosters, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, New York, New Jersey and others are all seeing outbreaks of an easily preventable disease. As these news items have cropped up, I began to see a pattern, that what started in California two years ago is making its way eastward. Whether this pattern is real or just an artifact of news reports, I'm not certain, but it did bring to mind a tool that is very helpful in examining progression of outbreaks from year to year.

I thought I had mentioned this in a previous post, but was unable to find it. The Council on Foreign Relations has devised an interactive map of infectious disease outbreaks around the world:

A Brief Note: Post Zombie 5K

The zombie 5K is done. I made it to the end and spent the weekend recovering. Once I've had some time to go through photos and have talked with MGH to find out my total fundraising, I'll put up a more lengthy post about the whole experience.

In the meantime, here's a spoiler:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Guaranteed Autism Prevention! Oh, really?

There's no doubt that autism represents a significant health issue, not just in the U.S., but around the world. Current estimates put the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) at around 1 in 88 children. Over the years, awareness of ASDs has increased; tests and diagnostic tools have been developed that can detect ASDs earlier and within a wider range of severities; and diagnostic criteria have shifted, generally leading to more inclusive criteria, meaning that a greater number of less severe cases are diagnosed. For those families dealing with more severe autism, the burden can be incredible, physically, emotionally and financially. Frequent, violent behavior from those more severely affected, as well as bolting or self-injurious behaviors, can wear a person out very quickly. Going out is often difficult, due in part to the needed vigilance and in part because of the lack of understanding from members of the public; families tend to withdraw and become isolated, lacking the emotional support they need day by day. States are beginning to enact legislation that requires insurance companies to cover certain autism treatments, but there is still a long, long way to go to ensure that those who need services get them without undue financial burden and stress. Even with good health coverage, there may be other costs to bear, such as respite care or remodeling of the home space to meet the needs and challenges of autistic family members. (This is not to say that all people with ASDs deal with this level of hardship; there is a broad range, from those requiring professional support to those who are "quirky".)

Thus it should come as no surprise that wanting to prevent autism in the first place would be a godsend. Part of the difficulty, however, lies in the fact that, to date, we know very little about the causes of autism. We know about congenital rubella syndrome, Fragile X and Reyes' Syndrome as causes of ASDs, and current research strongly hints at multiple genetic and prenatal factors that could play some role in ASDs. But without solid understanding of how autism comes about in the first place, there is not a whole lot that we can do to prevent it.

Enter Dr. David Berger of Wholistic Pediatrics in Tampa, FL. Dr. Berger was interviewed by Heather VanNest, an anchor with WTSP 10 News, in an article titled How to prevent autism: 3 ways to lower the risk.

The NECSS of Thought and Reality - Year 2

I attended the fourth annual Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, or NECSS, April 21-22. This is a conference that was put together by the New York City Skeptics and New England Skeptical Society, the folks that bring you the weekly Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast. Since I had such a great time last year, I decided to go again, for my sophomore year of NECSS attendance.

As with last year's account, I think it is good to take a moment to address just what "skepticism" actually involves. In popular reference, it's generally taken to refer to someone who just doesn't believe X, and that's the end of it. There's not really a provisional approach to whatever X is. When it comes to topics that tend to crop up among the skeptical community, such as alternative medicine or UFOs, proponents of those topics sort of sneer when they use the word "skeptic", almost as if it's a pejorative akin to many a four-letter-word. But those who espouse a skeptical approach, whether they self-identify as skeptics or not, view claims based on the evidence available and follow where it leads. Sometimes the evidence changes their minds; sometimes it is insufficient to do so; but always a position is provisional, since you never know what new information will come their way.

With that out of the way, on with the show.