Misnamed anti-vaccine website Child Health Safety posted a blog recently in which a number of surprising claims were made with great certainty. I thought these claims sounded very dubious and it turned out that they were. It’s taken me a few days to get round to posting this debunking partly because, unlike Child Health Safety, I like to check my facts before I publish. Read the rest of this entry »
Anti-vaccinationists have made a wide range of claims about the dangers of vaccines. In spite of the fact that they have generally had neither data nor a plausible mechanism for the claimed effect, several of their claims have been investigated by researchers.
As it turns out, the anti-vaccinationists are remarkably consistent. Time and time again, they are shown to be wrong. I’m not sure how many times a group needs to be wrong before people stop seeing them as credible. Perhaps people need to be reminded of how many times this group has been wrong? Read the rest of this entry »
Dave Atherton of Freedom2Choose (which claims to seek “to protect the informed choices of consenting adults on the issues of smoking”) has written a piece that touches on the issue of smoking and SIDS. I found it quite interesting. But probably not for reasons that would please the author. Read the rest of this entry »
Everybody’s favourite MP, Nadine Dorries, has written an interesting new blog post on an investigation into her expenses. This is of interest for a couple of reasons. First, it enables us to play the traditional parlour game of spot the fiction. Secondly, it gives us a chance to look at how Nadine argues. Read the rest of this entry »
Main news article
Here, the Independent have a story about the flu vaccine being over-hyped. It seems to me that the message from scientists is that (a) the vaccine is not as effective as was thought (b) this over-estimation means there has been less focus on the development of better vaccines against influenza and (c) the money spent on the annual flu vaccine campaign could have been better used elsewhere. Oh, and (d) the vaccine is “the best we have” and they support its use. I’m not sure that this message has been put across by the newspaper as well as it might have been. Read the rest of this entry »
As has previously been reported in the press, scientists researching ME/CFS have faced abuse, threats and violence from some activists. Let’s take a look at what this has achieved. Read the rest of this entry »
After the What Doctors Don’t Tell You magazine’s October issue was published, Margaret McCartney, a GP, had an article in the BMJ criticising it. Some of the criticism related to Lynne McTaggart’s commentary on the HPV vaccines (something I wrote about here). McCartney took issue with the comments regarding deaths following HPV vaccination, stating that “to suggest that it has led to death is alarmist and does not reflect or explain the evidence collated by the Food and Drug Administration”. McTaggart has now responded to McCartney’s article in a blog post. Read the rest of this entry »
The magazine What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You (WDDTY), who have apparently threatened Simon Singh with legal action, are at the centre of a row over the content of their magazine and its appearance on the shelves of several major retailers. Blogger JQH gave his views on the magazine’s content here and Andy Lewis of the Quackometer blog asked the question should WHSmith stock the magazine. (Josephine Jones has now gathered a list of blogs covering the complaints and legal threat here.) I decided to take a look at the WDDTY article on the HPV vaccine. I was not impressed.
Warning: some of the quotes in this blog post may contain misinformation. Please carefully evaluate what you read.
On page 29, the article by Lynne McTaggart claims that the vaccine is “a dubious, untested, ineffective and highly dangerous solution” to the problem of cervical cancer.
A CDC page describes a number of randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of Gardasil. It seems to me that to describe the vaccine, without any qualifiers, as “untested” is misleading.You can find further studies of Gardasil on Pubmed, including systematic reviews. Like this one, for example. The article later claims, in large text, that “Gardasil was never tested in young teenaged women”. This is number 10 in a list of 14 ‘facts’. Here is the full text of a paper that looked at HPV vaccination in young people. They didn’t use the same outcomes as the previous trials referred to but they did test the immunogenicity and safety of the vaccine in over 500 girls aged 10-15. It’s worth noting that none of the serious adverse events suffered by participants was linked to the vaccine. Gardasil may not have been tested in the manner that McTaggart would like it to have been, but it most certainly is not “untested”.
The CDC’s section on efficacy describes the vaccine as having “a high efficacy for prevention of vaccine HPV type HPV 6-, 11-, 16-, and 18-related persistent infection, vaccine type-related CIN, CIN 2/3, and external genital lesions (genital warts, VIN and VaIN)” in participants receiving three doses of the vaccine who had no protocol violations and had not previously been infected with HPV. It seems that Gardasil does in fact do what it is claimed to do – prevent HPV infection and the abnormal growth of squamous cells on the surface of the cervix. In this, it is effective.
McTaggart uses VAERS data to support her suggestion that the vaccine is dangerous. Sorry, “highly dangerous”. Here’s what the VAERS website says about interpreting data:
When evaluating data from VAERS, it is important to note that for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event.
McTaggart also refers to deaths in India. As Andy Lewis points out, these deaths included a drowning, a snake bite and the effects of malaria. Using deaths that are clearly unrelated to the vaccine in order to spread fear about Gardasil is, well, an interesting way to make your case.
I think the kindest way to interpret McTaggart’s use of VAERS data and the deaths in India involves assuming that she was unaware of both the nature of the information in the VAERS database and the fact that many of the deaths reported following administration of the vaccine have actually been clearly and unambiguously unrelated to the vaccine. I know of no deaths that have been attributed to the vaccine after investigation.
If people’s decisions on healthcare are being influenced by magazines such as WDDTY, then these magazines have a duty to be very, very careful not to inadvertently mislead anybody on topics such as HPV vaccination. I think they need to be rather more careful than they currently are.
I’ve just typed around 600 words arguing against a fragment of a sentence. There is so much wrong with the HPV article and the magazine as a whole that to address it all would take an age. Here are just a few further (brief) comments on some of the problems with WDDTY.
In the HPV article, there is a boxout on page 30 that is headed “first invent the problem”. Lynne McTaggart might not think that cervical cancer is the most serious or the most common problem women face, but it’s certainly not been invented by the vaccine manufacturers. Hundreds of women die each year in the UK from cervical cancer. In the US, there are thousands of deaths.
On page 35, McTaggart points out that HPV expert Dr Diane Harper has distanced herself from Merck’s marketing tactics. She fails to mention Harper’s views on the vaccine itself. Fortunately, Ben Goldacre did, in 2009. “I fully support the HPV vaccines,” she says. “I believe that in general they are safe in most women. I told the Express all of this.”
I’ve only looked at the HPV article, but I think it would be a mistake to assume that the rest of the magazine is any better. JQH points out that the research on vitamin D that is discussed is not as clear-cut as WDDTY would have you believe. He also points out that there is a recommendation in one article to take Ginkgo Biloba, but no mention is made of potential side-effects of this remedy.
Back in 2009, I wrote about a paper from Schwarz et al that discussed attempts to improve decision-making and found that efforts to discredit false information could backfire and actually lead to myths being spread due to repetition of the misinformation. Schwarz is co-author of a more recent paper, Lewandowsky et al, that looks at ways to reduce the impact of misinformation. Read the rest of this entry »
A systematic review of research into organic foods and conventional alternatives by Smith-Spangler et al has been published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, discussed at Science-Based Medicine in a post by Steven Novella and attacked as “flawed” by the the Natural Society website. There is now a change.org petition, apparently authored by Mike Adams, The Health Ranger & Anthony Gucciardi. The claim that the study is flawed is, um, interestingly argued. Read the rest of this entry »