Tuesday, January 28, 2014

VacTruth Alleges Bullying in One-Sided Account of Nurse-Patient Encounter

Anti-vaccine activists have a love-hate relationship with medical providers, be they nurses, doctors, pharmacists, whatever. They love to hate any medical provider that dares to question their anti-vaccine beliefs. When they encounter someone who strongly urges them to get vaccinated or to vaccinate their children, the nurse or doctor is invariably described as a "bully", "ignorant", "ill-informed", "brain-washed", "pharma whores" and so on. They push "propaganda" are paid by "Big Pharma". Any interaction is viewed through this lens, that the parent is right and the medical professional is hopelessly benighted or even downright evil. If they happen to have a poor bedside manner, so much the worse, though given how some anti-vaccine activists respond to science-based feedback, I might be a bit short-tempered, too.

Over the weekend, an anti-vaccine blog called VacTruth.com (why must anti-vaccine groups always use such Orwellian names?) posted a story entitled "Bully Nurse Harasses Parents of Unvaccinated Baby at Michigan Hospital". According to the account, an unidentified couple brought their child to an urgent care center in Madison Heights, MI after talking on the phone with a nurse at their pediatrician's office. Their son, called "Oliver" in the article, had cold symptoms, a low fever and an "acne-like" rash on his face. Following the advice, they reportedly went to the Detroit Medical Center at Madison Heights, where the admitting nurse, if the account is to be believed, suspected the child had chicken pox and subsequently harassed, ridiculed and bullied the parents.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Autism Speaks Sounds the Fear

An unusually warm winter evening. Mid-January, no snow on the ground and the sky overcast, with the light nearly gone and nigh setting in. One the damp street, cars carried their owners homeward in a dense pack, heading down the hill toward the river. As I neared the plaza for the event (the screening of a new documentary), a small cluster of individuals with signs were gathering on the sidewalk at the entrance. Since I was running a bit late, I did not stop to talk, though I had wanted to. They were members of an advocacy organization there to protest the organization that made the film.

On Wednesday, January 15, Autism Speaks, in conjunction with Massachusetts General Hospital's Lurie Center for Autism, held a screening of their new documentary, Sounding the Alarm. The group out front were autism self-advocates who were protesting the film because they feel that Autism Speaks siphons off funds from local communities through fundraising, then gives very little back, as well as their use of negative imagery and words. According to the Facebook event page, the film is described as resorting "to rhetoric of fear, pity, tragedy, crisis, and burden to talk about autistic people".

At any rate, I made my way into the conference center where the screening was held, found a seat, and settled in to see just what all was in the film.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Two Recent Studies on Pertussis

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Over the past couple of years, and especially this year, there has been an increasing number of news articles about pertussis outbreaks across the United States. In 1976, we had a low of only 1,010 reported cases. Cases reports gradually increased over the 1980s and 1990s, reaching nearly 10,000 by the early 2000s. Then in 2012, there were 48,277 reported cases. As of December 14, 2013, there have been 23,009 cases reported for the year. With the recent uptick in whooping cough across the country, the big question is, unsurprisingly, why? What's causing it? There have been a wide variety of potential explanations: reduced or waning efficacy of the vaccine, declines in vaccine uptake, and changes in the pertussis bacterium itself. Several studies published this year may shed a little light on the issue, especially in terms of vaccine efficacy.

The question of vaccine refusal and its link to outbreaks is not particularly surprising. Published in the journal Pediatrics in October, "Nonmedical vaccine exemptions and pertussis in California, 2010", by Atwell, et al., showed that non-medical exemptions were one of several factors contributing to the 2010 outbreak of whooping cough in California, which claimed the lives of 10 infants. This finding is in line with previous research on the impact of non-vaccination on the risk of outbreaks (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here). Lack of vaccination increases the risk of infection for both the individual and the surrounding members of their community.

Likewise, we know that the immunity from the pertussis vaccine wanes with time, just like the immunity from infection itself. That's nothing new. But two pieces of the puzzle that popped up in the scientific literature recently might explain why efficacy seems to be declining faster than previously thought.