Thursday, February 18, 2016

Undisclosed Conflicts of Interest in Vaccine Research

Conflicts of interest (COIs) are very important considerations in research. The most obvious COIs are financial; the researcher may receive financial gain for one result versus another, or they will at least avoid losing current or future income if they get a specific result. But COIs could also be non-financial. Perhaps they have family or close friends that would prefer one outcome versus another. Or they might hold a volunteer position of authority in the sponsor's organization. Whatever form they take, COIs may not necessarily invalidate a study, they hold the potential to influence scientists' behavior during a study, their analysis of the data, and the conclusions they draw from their research. Sometimes, the researcher may not even be fully aware of the influence of their COIs on their work. Blinding can help reduce the influence of conflicts of interest, but any COIs must be disclosed so that anyone who reads the study can think about how they may have influenced the study design, the methods, the analysis, and the conclusions.

When it comes to published research, most journals require authors to disclose both financial and personal relationships with other organizations or people that could bias their study. Failure to disclose COIs can be grounds for refusal of a manuscript or retraction of a paper that has already been published. It can really damage the researcher's reputation, but it can also harm the reputation of the journal.

This all brings us to a study that was originally published as an uncorrected proof in the journal Vaccine, and later withdrawn by the journal: Behavioral abnormalities in young female mice following administration of aluminum adjuvants and the human papillomavirus  (HPV) vaccine Gardasil, by Rotem Inbar, Ronen Weiss, Lucija Tomljenovic, Maria-Teresa Arango, Yael Deri, Christopher A. Shaw, Joab Chapman, Miri Blank, and Yehuda Shoenfeld.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

69 Doses and Matters of Trust

The other day, I wrote about the incorrect claim that there are 69 doses of vaccine on the U.S. recommended childhood immunization schedule. That claim has morphed into 71 (or 72 [Edited to Add (2/24/15): apparently, anti-vaccine groups are now dishonestly claiming 74!]) doses since the publication of the 2016 schedule, which added the Meningococcal B vaccine for at-risk individuals, as well as those for who would like to get the vaccine and their doctor agrees it is indicated. The MenB vaccine has not yet been added as recommended for all individuals. At any rate, I had hoped that my post might help those repeating the "69 doses" claim realize that they were mistaken and misled by whomever they heard the claim from (e.g., @VaxCalc has been quite busy on Twitter, spouting out that claim on an almost daily basis, despite being told that it is incorrect). I've share the post with a number of people on Twitter that have repeated the claim. As yet, I have not had a single person admit that the claim is wrong. Mostly, they try to come back with rationalizations, which really misses the point of my post.

So what's behind the misunderstanding? What point was I trying to make?

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".