Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Is the Government Taking Away People's Beliefs?

Measles has been in the news a lot, lately. And it's not surprising, with the unusual 644 cases in 2014 and 154 (as of Feb. 20)  and counting already in 2015. The outbreaks have not only grabbed the attention of the media, but politicians are starting to take notice, as well. Several state legislatures are either already considering or will be introducing bills aimed at improving tracking of vaccine uptake and improving immunization rates overall. Some of these bills require disclosure of immunization rates for each school. Others go much further and would remove philosophical exemptions from school immunization requirements. These latter bills would bring those states more in line with Mississippi and West Virginia, which only allow for medical exemptions for students' school shots (and also just happen to have some of the lowest rates of vaccine preventable diseases).

To say that those who, either in total or just the mandated school-entry immunizations, are opposed to vaccinations are unhappy would be an understatement. Moves to remove non-medical exemptions from school vaccination requirements are met with arguments about personal freedom, that this is no different than what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust, or that the government is taking away people's beliefs or rights.

So what's going on? Is the government taking away people's beliefs? Are they infringing on our rights as citizens? And what about the children who are affected by all of this?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Genotypes, Serotypes and the MMR: Cognitive Dissonance in Action

Many of those who have bought into the anti-vaccine message seem to hold very tightly to their chosen belief. The more emotionally invested they are, the more likely they will go to great lengths to justify or rationalize their position. True, this is not unique to anti-vaccine activists or those closely associated with them, but it quite commonly dictates their reaction to evidence that challenges their beliefs. Evidence that contradicts their worldview, causing cognitive dissonance, leads to different mechanisms to cope with the psychological discomfort that results. The less entrenched individuals may look at the evidence, accept it as valid, and change their prior beliefs to fit with the new evidence. Some may simply ignore the evidence and pretend it doesn't even exist (e.g., "vaccine have never been studied for safety" despite numerous studies doing exactly that). But more commonly, they will invent rationalizations to explain away the contradicting.

The most recent example of this is the current outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland in California, and to a lesser extent last year's historic case count (644 cases) that hasn't been seen in the past 20 years and surpassed the number of measles cases from the previous five years combined. The Disney outbreak has resulted in 125 cases (through February 8) in just over one month (141 cases in two outbreaks as of February 13) resulting in 17 known hospitalizations. The majority (88%) of cases were either unvaccinated (45% of the total) or had unknown or undocumented vaccination status (43% of the total). The unvaccinated have been a significant contributor to the size of this outbreak and the speed with which it has spread. And the media has taken notice, with the majority of outlets putting the blame right where it belongs: on the anti-vaccine movement.

So how have anti-vaccine types responded?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Demystifying Vaccine Ingredients - Aluminum

People, in general, tend to have a fairly poor grasp of chemistry. I don't blame them; there's an awful lot to learn and it can get pretty complex. To make matters worse, this lack of understanding is often coupled with what some would call "chemophobia" (not a very good name, as it's not a real phobia, nor does it generally rise to the level of debilitating pathology). In short, people tend to have an inherent, emotional distrust of "chemicals" and substances that have weird, hard to pronounce names or that tend to have negative associations. For example, who wants to ingest 7,8-Dimethyl-10-[(2S,3S,4R)-2,3,4,5-tetrahydroxypentyl]benzo[g]pteridine-2,4-dione? Maybe you'd prefer C17H20N4O6? But that chemical is in a lot of foods that we eat. Many processed foods, like cereals, pastas and cheeses contain it. Don't eat processed foods and eat nothing but an all-natural, organic, "healthy" diet? You still won't avoid that chemical, since it's also in a lot of leafy greens and legumes. Both of those are the same chemical, also known as riboflavin, or vitamin B2. What about potassium? It's a metal that, when exposed to water, reacts very violently, exploding almost immediately. If you are exposed to excessive amounts of potassium, you can develop muscle paralysis and heart palpitations. And yet, it is an essential part of our diet. Your body needs potassium in order to function properly.

When it comes to medical products, there is an even greater uncertainty around the ingredients. Not only do the problems above come into play, but add on distrust of faceless companies or unsavory associations, and the fear increases. I illustrated this in two of my previous posts, one on formaldehyde and one on monosodium glutamate. Some vaccines contain small amounts of these substances as a part of the manufacturing process. But there is a vaccine ingredient that gets even more bad press than either of those: aluminum (or aluminium, if you prefer). Let's take a look at this substance, how we're exposed, how our bodies deal with it, and its role in vaccines.