Articles

Vaccines and infant mortality rates: A false relationship promoted by the anti-vaccine movement

The anti-vaccine movement is a frequent topic on the Science-Based Medicine blog. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which being that the anti-vaccine movement is one of the most dangerous forms of pseudoscience, a form of quackery that, unlike most forms of quackery, endangers those who do not partake of it by breaking down herd immunity and paving the way for the resurgence of previously vanquished diseases. However, anti-vaccine beliefs share many other aspects with other forms of quackery, including the reliance on testimonials rather than data. Even so, although the intelligentsia (and I do use the term loosely) of the anti-vaccine movement realizes and exploits the power of anecdotes and testimonials and how human beings tend to value such stories over dry scientific data, leaders of the anti-vaccine movement realize that science is overwhelmingly against them and that testimonials alone are not adequate to counter that science in the realm of public policy and relations.

That’s why, over the years, various anti-vaccine “scientists” (and I use that term very loosely as well) have produced poor quality, sometimes even fraudulent studies, which are then touted as evidence that vaccines cause autism or at least as evidence that there is actually still a scientific controversy when in fact from a scientific standpoint the vaccine-autism hypothesis is pining for the fjords. Examples abound, including the work of Mark and David Geier, whose studies led the to use chemical castration to treat autistic children; Andrew Wakefield, whose small case series almost certainly included fraudulent data; a truly incompetent “phone survey” commissioned by Generation Rescue designed to compare “vaxed versus unvaxed” children; and an even more incompetent “study” in which Generation Rescue used a cherry picked group of nations to try to argue that nations that require more vaccines have higher rates of infant mortality. These efforts continue. For example, last year Generation Rescue requested $809,721 from the Airborne settlement to set up a “vaxed versus unvaxed” study, despite the known difficulties with such a study and the low likelihood of finding anything without huge numbers of children.

Last week, they were at it again.

The return of the revenge of the claim that more vaccines equal more infant mortality

Over the last week or so, anti-vaccine activists have been busy touting two “studies” or “reports,” one I can write about now, one that will have to wait. I’ll start with the one that has to wait first:

Investigators and Families of Vaccine-Injured Children to Unveil Report Detailing Clear Vaccine-Autism Link Based on Government’s Own Data

Report Demands Immediate Congressional Action

Directors of the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy (EBCALA), parents and vaccine-injured children will hold a press conference on the steps of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (717 Madison Place, NW in Washington, DC) on Tuesday, May 10 at 12:00 PM to unveil an investigation linking vaccine injury to autism. For over 20 years, the federal government has publicly denied a vaccine-autism link, while at the same time its Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) has been awarding damages for vaccine injury to children with brain damage, seizures and autism. This investigation, based on public, verifiable government data, breaks new ground in the controversial vaccine-autism debate.

The investigation found that a substantial number of children compensated for vaccine injury also have autism. The government has asserted that it “does not track” autism among the vaccine-injured. Based on this preliminary investigation, the evidence suggests that autism is at least three times more prevalent among vaccine-injured children than among children in the general population.

Stay tuned. This appears to be the same “study” that anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was originally going to announce in front of the White House back in April, but his press conference was ultimately canceled. Apparently, this publication was to appear in the Pace University Law School journal, which, of course, the sort of venue that is always preferable to the peer-reviewed scientific literature, at least to cranks.

Whatever the announcement turns out to be, the second example is indeed a study that somehow made it into the peer-reviewed literature. I found out about it from two sources, first, you our readers, several of whom have sent me links to the study, and, second, the ever-popular all-purpose quackery website, NaturalNews.com, which announced triumphantly last week that nations requiring the most vaccines tend to have the worst infant mortality rates:

A new study, published in Human and Experimental Toxicology (http://het.sagepub.com/content/earl…), a peer-reviewed journal indexed by the National Library of Medicine, found that nations with higher (worse) infant mortality rates tend to give their infants more vaccine doses. For example, the United States requires infants to receive 26 vaccines — the most in the world — yet more than six U.S. infants die per every 1000 live births. In contrast, Sweden and Japan administer 12 vaccines to infants, the least amount, and report less than three deaths per 1000 live births.

Before we get to the study itself—which, as you might imagine, has…flaws—let’s take a look at the authors. The first author, Neil Z. Miller, is described as an “independent researcher, and the second author, Gary S. Goldman, is described as an “independent computer scientist.” This is not a promising start, as neither of them appear to have any qualifications that would lead a reader to think that they have any special expertise in epidemiology, vaccines, or science. Still, I suppose one could look at the fact that these two somehow managed to get a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal as being pretty strong evidence for the democratic nature of science, where you don’t necessarily have to be affiliated with a university or a biotech or pharmaceutical company in order to publish in the scientific literature. On the other hand, even though it is stated that this was not funded by any grants or companies, I still see a conflict of interest. Specifically, the NaturalNews.com article points out that the “National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) donated $2500 and Michael Belkin donated $500 (in memory of his daughter, Lyla) for open access to the journal article (making it freely available to all researchers).” The NVIC, as you recall, was founded by Barbara Loe Fisher and is one of the oldest and most influential anti-vaccine groups in the U.S., having recently teamed up with Joe Mercola to promote anti-vaccine views.

No, most definitely not a promising start.

It’s also not surprising. I did a bit of Googling, as is my wont whenever I encounter someone whose name I don’t recognized, and I found abundant evidence in his Wikipedia entry that Miller has a long history of anti-vaccine activism, having written books with titles like Vaccine Roulette: Gambling With Your Child’s Life, Immunization Theory vs Reality: Expose on Vaccinations, and Vaccines: Are They Really Safe and Effective?, among others. But that’s not all; he’s also the director of the ThinkTwice Global Vaccine Institute and in fact is hosting a copy of this study on his website. Gary S. Goldman is even more interesting. It turns out that he is the President and Founder of Medical Veritas, a rabidly anti-vaccine “journal” that is into HIV/AIDS denialism, having published dubious “reanalyses” of autopsy results of victims of AIDS, such as Eliza Jane Scovill. He also notes at his website that he’s written books entitled The Chickenpox Vaccine: A New Epidemic of Disease and Corruption.

Even less promising.

Still, one might wonder why I pointed this out. Isn’t that an ad hominem attack? Not at all. I’m not arguing that this latest paper is wrong because its authors are clearly members of the anti-vaccine fringe. Who knows? They might be on to something. I’m merely pointing out that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander when it comes to pointing out conflicts of interest (COIs) and, as Harriet has recently discussed COIs do not necessarily have to be financial. As I’ve pointed out time and time again, COIs do not necessarily mean that a study is in error, poorly done, or out-and-out wrong. They merely demand a bit more skepticism, particularly when they are not disclosed, which they are not in the actual paper, which fails to list the connection to NVIC, Medical Veritas, and ThinkTwice. Why didn’t Miller list himself as editor or founder of ThinkTwice or Goldman as founder and editor of Medical Veritas? One wonders, one does. Knowing that these two hold those positions is every bit as relevant as knowing when a pharmaceutical company publishes a study about its latest blockbuster drug.

But who knows? Maybe I’m wrong. Well, actually, I don’t think I am, but it will take delving into the actual paper to show why.

Infant mortality as a function of number of vaccines

The first thing you need to know is that this is a really, really simple paper. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it is simple-minded more than just simple. Basically, Miller and Goldman went to The World Factbook maintained by, of all organizations, the Central Intelligence Agency. Noting that in 2009 the U.S. ranked 34th in infant mortality, they looked up the infant mortality rates from the U.S. and all the nations that have lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. and then compared them to the number of vaccine doses each nation require. They then graphed the infant mortality rate as a function of vaccine dose, and this resulted in Figure 1:

That’s it. That really is the “meat” of the paper, such as it is.

Whenever I see a paper like this, I ask myself: What would I say about it if it had been sent to me as a peer reviewer. This graph leads to a number of questions. First, why did the authors use 2009 data? The cited reference notes that the data were accessed back in April 2010. That’s over a year ago. Did it really take over a year between submission and publication. Be that as it may, whenever I see investigators trying to correlate two variables like infant mortality and the number of vaccines I ask: What is the rationale? It’s the “storks deliver babies” fallacy all over again. In fact, it’s amazingly simple to find spurious “correlations,” as has been demonstrated time and time again as bloggers find correlations between unrelated things, such as vaccines and automobile deaths and the rise in global temperatures and the number of pirates.

I also note that the authors here seem to have pulled the same trick that J.B. Handley and crew like to pull when trying to convince people that U.S. infants are “overvaccinated” by artificially pumping up the apparent number of vaccine doses by counting multivalent vaccines as more than one. For instance, the MMR and DTaP are counted as three each because each vaccine is trivalent; i.e., containing vaccines against three different diseases. In fact, the authors of this gem do this very thing in spades, as Catherina explains:

There are a number of things wrong with this procedure – first of all, the way Miller and Goldman are counting vaccines is completely arbitrary and riddled with mistakes.

Arbitrary: they count number of vaccines in US bins (DTaP is one, hib is separate) and non-specific designations (some “polio” is still given as OPV in Singapore), rather than antigens. If they did that, Japan, still giving the live bacterial vaccine BCG, would immediately go to the top of the list. That wouldn’t fit the agenda, of course. But if you go by “shot” rather than by antigen, why are DTaP, IPV, hepB and hib counted as 4 shots for example in Austria, when they are given as Infanrix hexa, in one syringe?

Mistakes: The German childhood vaccination schedule recommends DTaP, hib, IPV AND hepB, as well as PCV at 2, 3 and 4 months, putting them squarely into the 21 – 23 bin. The fourth round of shots is recommended at 11 to 14 months, and MenC, MMR and Varicella are recommended with a lower age limit of 11 months, too, which means that a number of German kids will fall into the highest bin, at least as long as you count the Miller/Goldman way.

Having used dubious and error-ridden methods for counting the required vaccines and correlated those numbers to infant mortality rates, the authors then move on. After pointing out that the U.S. has a poor infant mortality rate (IMR) relative to its wealth and what it spends on health care, the authors state:

There are many factors that affect the IMR of any given country. For example, premature births in the United States have increased by more than 20% between 1990 and 2006. Preterm babies have a higher risk of complications that could lead to death within the first year of life.6 However, this does not fully explain why the United States has seen little improvement in its IMR since 2000.7

Nations differ in their immunization requirements for infants aged less than 1 year. In 2009, five of the 34 nations with the best IMRs required 12 vaccine doses, the least amount, while the United States required 26 vaccine doses, the most of any nation. To explore the correlation between vaccine doses that nations routinely give to their infants and their infant mortality rates, a linear regression analysis was performed.

This is known as starting with a reasonable observation and then switching to a hypothesis with little or no scientific justification, in essence pulling it out of thin air. The second question I would have is: Why a linear relationship? No justification is given for performing a linear regression analysis. My third question would be: Why this data set?

Actually, this third question is probably the most interesting of all. Miller and Goldman only looked at one year’s data. There are many years worth of data available; if such a relationship between IMR and vaccine doses is real, it will be robust, showing up in multiple analyses from multiple years’ data. Moreover, the authors took great pains to look at only the United States and the 33 nations with better infant mortality rates than the U.S. There is no statistical rationale for doing this, nor is there a scientific rationale. Again, if this is a true correlation, it will be robust enough to show up in comparisons of more nations than just the U.S. and nations with more favorable infant mortality rates. Basically, the choice of data analyzed leaves a strong suspicion of cherry picking. Were I reviewing this paper, I would insist on the use of one or two other data sets. For example, I would ask for different years and/or perhaps the use of the rankings by the United Nations Population Division, which can be found in the Wikipedia entry containing the list of countries by infant mortality rate. And I would insist on doing the analysis so that it includes several nations with worse IMRs than the U.S. Indeed, since the focal point of the analysis seems to be the U.S., which, according to Miller and Goldman, requires more vaccine doses than any other nation, then it would make sense to look at the 33 nations with worse IMRs than the U.S.

Be that as it may, I looked at the data myself and played around with it One thing I noticed immediately is that the authors removed four nations, Andorra, Liechenstein, Monaco, and San Marino, the justification being that because they are all so small, each nation only recorded less than five infant deaths. Coincidentally, or not, when all the data are used, the r2=.426, whereas when those four nations are excluded, r2 increases to 0.494, meaning that the goodness of fit improved. Even so, it’s not that fantastic, certainly not enough to be particularly convincing as a linear relationship. More dubiously, for some reason the authors, not content with an weak and not particularly convincing linear relationship in the raw data, decided to do a little creative data manipulation and divide the nations into five groups based on number of vaccine doses, take the means of each of these groups, and then regraph the data. Not surprisingly, the data look a lot cleaner, which was no doubt why this was done, as it was a completely extraneous analysis. As a rule of thumb, this sort of analysis will almost always produce a much nicer-looking linear graph, as opposed to the “star chart” in Figure 1. Usually, this sort of data massaging is done when a raw scatterplot doesn’t produce the desired relationship.

Finally, it’s important to remember that IMRs are very difficult to compare across nations. In fact, the source I most like to cite to illustrate this is, believe it or not, an article by Bernadine Healy, the former director of the NIH who has over the last three or four years flirted with the anti-vaccine movement:

First, it’s shaky ground to compare U.S. infant mortality with reports from other countries. The United States counts all births as live if they show any sign of life, regardless of prematurity or size. This includes what many other countries report as stillbirths. In Austria and Germany, fetal weight must be at least 500 grams (1 pound) to count as a live birth; in other parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, the fetus must be at least 30 centimeters (12 inches) long. In Belgium and France, births at less than 26 weeks of pregnancy are registered as lifeless. And some countries don’t reliably register babies who die within the first 24 hours of birth. Thus, the United States is sure to report higher infant mortality rates. For this very reason, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which collects the European numbers, warns of head-to-head comparisons by country.

Infant mortality in developed countries is not about healthy babies dying of treatable conditions as in the past. Most of the infants we lose today are born critically ill, and 40 percent die within the first day of life. The major causes are low birth weight and prematurity, and congenital malformations. As Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, points out, Norway, which has one of the lowest infant mortality rates, shows no better infant survival than the United States when you factor in weight at birth.

It’s ironic that Bernadine Healy, who’s associated herself so heavily with the anti-vaccine movement, to the point of having been named Age of Autism’s Person of the Year in 2008, provided such a nice, concise explanation about why it’s so problematic to compare infant mortality rates between nations. Miller and Goldman claim that they tried to correct for these differences in reporting for some of the nations who do not use reporting methods consistent with WHO guidelines, but they do not say how they did so or what data source they used to do so. Note that these children who die within the first day of life also tend to be the ones who have either received no vaccines yet or only the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine (here in the U.S.). Given that infant mortality is defined as the fraction of children who die before one year of age and many infants lost die very early, many of them have had few or no vaccines, given that the bulk of the U.S. vaccine schedule does not really start until two months of age. In other words, no effort was made to determine if there was actually any sort of correlation between vaccine dose number whether the infants who died actually died at an age where they would be expected to have received most of the vaccines required within the first year. Worse, no real attempt was made to correct for many potential confounding factors. Not that that stops the authors from asking:

Among the 34 nations analyzed, those that require the most vaccines tend to have the worst IMRs. Thus, we must ask important questions: is it possible that some nations are requiring too many vaccines for their infants and the additional vaccines are a toxic burden on their health? Are some deaths that are listed within the 130 infant mortality death categories really deaths that are associated with over-vaccination? Are some vaccine-related deaths hidden within the death tables?

Never mind that the authors present no real data to justify such a speculation. They do speculate, however. Oh, how they speculate! The spend two whole pages trying to link vaccines to sudden infant death syndrome and argue that SIDS deaths, hinting at some sort of conspiracy to cover up the number of SIDS deaths by reclassifying them and then cite old studies that suggested a correlation between vaccination and SIDS while neglecting the more recent data that show that the risk of SIDS is not increased after immunization and that, if anything, vaccination is probably protective against SIDS. Indeed, one of the studies the authors discuss is an abstract presented in 1982, not even a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Finally, there is the issue of ecological fallacy. The ecological fallacy can occur when an epidemiological analysis is carried out on group level data rather than individual-level data. In other words, the group is the unit of analysis. Clearly, comparing vaccination schedules to nation-level infant mortality rates is the very definition of an ecological analysis. Such analyses have a tendency to magnify any differences observed, as Epiwonk once described while analyzing–surprise, surprise!–a paper by Mark and David Geier:

To make this jump from group-level to individual-level data is The Ecological Fallacy, which can be defined simply as thinking that relationships observed for groups necessarily hold for individuals.

The ecological fallacy was first described by the psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1938 in a paper entitled, “On the fallacy of imputing the correlations found for groups to the individuals or smaller groups composing them.” (Kind of says it all, doesn’t it.) The concept was introduced into sociology in 1950 by W.S. Robinson in 1950 in a paper entitled, “Ecological correlations and the behavior of individuals,” and the term Ecological Fallacy was coined by the sociologist H.C. Selvin in 1958. The concept of the ecological fallacy was formally introduced into epidemiology by Mervyn Susser in his 1973 text, Causal Thinking in the Health Sciences, although group-level analyses had been published in public health and epidemiology for decades.

To show you one example of the ecological fallacy, let’s take a brief look at H.C. Selvin’s 1958 paper. Selvin re-analyzed the 1897 study of Emile Durkheim (the “father of sociology”), Suicide, which investigated the association between religion and suicide. Although it’s difficult to find Selvin’s 1958 paper, the analyses are duplicated in a review by Professor Hal Morgenstern of the University of Michigan. Durkheim had data on four groups of Prussian provinces between 1883 and 1890. When the suicide rate is regressed on the percent of each group that was Protestant, an ecologic regression reveals a relative risk of 7.57, “i.e. it appears that Protestants were 7½ times as likely to commit suicide as were other residents (most of whom were Catholic)….ln fact, Durkheim actually compared suicide rates for Protestants and Catholics living in Prussia. From his data, we find that the rate was about twice as great among Protestants as among other religious groups, suggesting a substantial difference between the results obtained at the ecologic level (RR = 7.57) and those obtained at the individual level (RR = 2).” Thus, in Durkheim’s data, the effect estimate (the relative risk) is magnified by 4 by ecologic bias. In a recent methodological investigation of bias magnification in ecologic studies, Dr. Tom Webster of Boston University shows that effect measures can be biased upwards by as much as 25 times or more in ecologic analyses in which confounding is not controlled.

The bottom line is that Miller and Goldman’s ecological analysis virtually guaranteed overestimating any relationship found, the way some studies of radiation hormesis have done. Given that the difference between the highest and lowest IMR is only around two-fold, in essence, given this data set it is highly unlikely that there is any relationship there. This is particularly true given that the authors cannot possibly have controlled for the major confounders. Add to that the fact that they only used one data set and didn’t even include nations with higher IMRs than that of the U.S., and I declare this paper to be utterly worthless. It’s an embarrassment to Human and Experimental Toxicology that its peer reviewers didn’t catch all these problems and that an editor let this paper see print. The Editor-in-Chief Kai Savolainen and the Editor for the Americas A. Wallace Hayes ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Conclusion

The current study joins a long list of poorly planned, poorly executed, poorly analyzed studies that purport to show that vaccines cause autism, neurological diease, or even death. It is not the first, nor will it be the last. The question is: How do we respond to such studies? First off, we as skeptics have to be very careful not to become so jaded that knee-jerk hostility predominates. As unlikely as it is, there is always the possibility that there might be something worth taking seriously there. Next off, we have to be prepared to analyze these studies and explain to parents, when appropriate (which is the vast majority of the time) exactly why it is that they are bad science or why their conclusions are not supported by the data presented. Finally, we have to be prepared to provide these analyses fast. The Internet is speed. Already, if you Google the terms “infant mortality” and “vaccine,” anti-vaccine blogs gloating over Miller and Goldman’s study and the study itself appear on the very first page of search results.

Such is the power of a bad study coupled with the reach of the Internet and the naivete of peer reviewers and journal editors who don’t realize when they’re being played.

Posted in: Epidemiology, Vaccines

Leave a Comment (28) ↓

28 thoughts on “Vaccines and infant mortality rates: A false relationship promoted by the anti-vaccine movement

  1. Enkidu says:

    Wow, what an awful paper. ONE piece of “data” analysis which as you pointed out was poorly designed. And I don’t even know what to say about that SIDS graph, it’s in the relm of, “hey, let’s just make stuff up so we can put another graph in here.”

  2. BillyJoe says:

    This article is now referenced on the first page if you google “infant mortality” and “vaccine” :)

  3. David Gorski says:

    I didn’t expect it to work that fast. :-)

  4. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    In itself it is not implausible that such a relation should exist. David Gorski even suggests the reason: countries with strict definitions about what constitutes a live birth just might be more concerned about providing optimal health care than countries that are a bit more sloppy. Moreover, advanced healthcare might mean more children born extremely premature rather than stillborn, which also tends to raise the mortality.

    The least they could have done is subtract the perinatal mortality.

    But the idea of a causal relationship is nonsense, as Gorski mentions. I thought everybody knew that most of those vaccinations are not in the first months of life.

  5. Watcher says:

    It’s ironic that Bernadine Healy, … , provided such a nice, concise explanation about why it’s so problematic to compare infant mortality rates between nations.

    I had no idea that the regulations for infant mortality were so diverse. That’s pretty much it for the study as far as I’m concerned. You can’t do a strict 1:1 comparison with so many differing definitions.

  6. JJ from Cowtown says:

    So, first we have differing definitions of infant mortality.

    Then we have the fact that most infant mortality occurs before vaccination.

    Another point that could have been investigated – not only is there good year by year data in the US for infant mortality, there’s good state-by-state numbers.

    So instead of mixing / matching international data they could have stuck to just US data. Except, of course, then they have to explain the variation between states when vaccination recommendations are basically unchanged across the US.

    And they’d actually have good data sets to draw upon instead of narrow tidbits from the CIA Factbook…

  7. Prometheus says:

    Dr. Gorski,

    I refer your readers to the following paper:

    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr58/nvsr58_19.pdf

    In particular, they should look at figure 7 (p 13), which shows the infant, neonatal and post-neonatal mortality rates in the US from 1940 – 2007. Granted, this doesn’t cover the 2009 period (those data are still preliminary, according to the CDC), but it paints an interesting picture.

    Covering the time when almost all childhood vaccines were introduced (the major exceptions being the diptheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccines and the smallpox vaccine, which is no longer used), this graph shows that all three mortality rates (infant, neonatal, post-neonatal) showed significant declines throughout the period when childhood vaccines were rapidly introduced.

    Despite the fact that the US has higher infant mortality rates than industrialised nations of similar wealth, this graph makes it painfully clear that vaccines are not a likely cause of that difference.

    If you go to the preliminary data on infant mortality for 2008 and 2009, the trend continues gradually downward despite the fact that US children in 2009 (IMR 6.42 per 1000 live births) received more vaccines in the first year of life than they did in 1970 (IMR 20.0 per 1000 live births) or 1960 (IMR 26.0 per 1000 live births).

    So, if we compare “apples to apples”, we see that the increased number of childhood – and even infant – vaccines has been accompanied by a significant decrease in infant, neonatal and post-neonatal mortality.

    Shame on Human and Experimental Toxicology for publishing such an easily debunked “study”.

    Prometheus

  8. iainwb says:

    I have a question that’s not directly about these particular shenanigans, but about the anti-vaccine movement in general. This may be something you’ve covered in the distant past, but I’ve been reading SBM and Neurologica for a while, and still find myself puzzled.

    The question is this: what is the motivation behind anti-vaccine propaganda?

    In general, that is. I can understand – to a point – some specific cases. Fundamentalist opposition to HPV vaccine, because it implies that abstinence-only has failed. Some libertarian groups have been known to deny science that suggests a need for regulation, and perhaps JPANDS doesn’t like mandatory or suggested vaccination schedules limiting individual freedom of choice. Wakefield clearly had a direct financial incentive. Etc.

    But these are all disparate motivations, and would only lead to small and specific rejection of some vaccines. Nothing like – it seems to me – anything like the scale of the anti-vaccine movement. There has to be some religious or political belief – some common thread that’s behind the propaganda. Yet it seems that anti-vaccine sentiment crosses belief systems, other than being against “big pharma,” which would seem odd for the many conservative anti-vaxers.

    *Is* there an anti-vax philosophy? Or some reason for disparate irrational outlooks to come together?

  9. lilady says:

    Excellent article and analysis Dr. Gorski.

    Bernadette Healy provided us with a definition of live births, “The United States counts all births as live, if they show any signs of life, regardless of prematurity and size”…Dr Gorski further expanded on that explanation “Note that these children who die in the first day of life also tend to be the ones who either have received no vaccines yet or only the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine (here in the U.S.)”

    I’d like to point out that all children born with a birth weight under 2000g., do not receive a “birth dose” of hepatitis B vaccine…only children whose mother has been identified as being a hepatitis B carrier “receive the birth dose”.

    General Recommendations on Immunization (ACIP Recommendations and Reports, January 28, 2011) Vaccination of Preterm Infants:

    “Infants weighing <2000g. born to HBsAg-negative mothers should receive the first dose (of Hepatitis B vaccine) at chronological age 1 month or at hospital discharge".

    So, there is even less of a correlation between the numbers of vaccines administered in the U.S. and the infant mortality rate.

  10. Deetee says:

    One point I have been making over on the badscience forum is that the researchers haven’t even got the basic numbers right.

    They have assumed that 100% of the *recommended* vaccines will be administered to infants, but this is obviously untrue.

    If any correlation is to be made (and I take the point that trying to correlate these 2 parameters is rather ridiculous anyhow), it should be for vaccines actually administered rather than vaccines recommended on the schedule.

    One of the countries with the lowest quoted IMR is Sweden. This country has a 98% vaccine uptake rate of its recommended schedule.
    But the USA only has about a 92% vaccine uptake rate.
    http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2010/WHO_IVB_2010_eng_p32-R242.pdf

    So the correlation between IMR and vaccines “given” is flawed, since the US vaccine uptake rate is much less in practice than is claimed by the study authors.

    Another point is that in “real life”, it is usual for only 23 or possibly less of the “26 vaccines” to be given in the first year of life. That is because some like the 3rd dose of HepB or IPV can be given anytime between 6 and 18 months, (so why automatically assume these are always given at 6 months?), if Pedvax or Comvax are used for HiB then only 2 doses are given, (not 3), and if Rotarix is used then only 2 doses are given (not 3).

    These reductions in the numbers of vaccine doses given means the true “vaccine” uptake average in the USA might be be the equivalent of 20 or so vaccine equivalents rather than the 26 the authors are claiming are given in the US.

    Another gripe I have is what actually counts as “a vaccine”?
    (eg is a flu shot “one” vaccine, or is it “three” because it is a trivalent vaccine?) but if we start doing this type of breakdown we could be here all day.

  11. AllieP says:

    iainwb, I have a 7 month old baby who has been receiving ALL her recommended vaccine schedules. I live in the kind of upper middle class white crunchy granola area that slurps up anti-vax and homoeopathy crap. (Hint: they recently closed a Waldorf school near here due to a Pertussis outbreak, and the Geiers “practiced” a few towns over). My baby’s inability to be completely vaccinated around these folks because she’s too young drives me nuts, and more nuts because parents in the playgroups give me the side-eye about vaccinating!

    Thus I’ve read a TON about it — not just to inform myself, but to arm myself with arguments to counter the woo. I’m a reasonably intelligent woman. I have a BS in a science field from a top tier college.

    On a lot of these parenting sites and playgroups, I run into parents who insist that they weren’t anti vax until they read up on it. Funny — I’ve ALSO done a ton of research, and it’s made me even MORE fervently pro-vax. Are we reading the same articles? I can’t imagine we are. You don’t have to dig far into the anti-vax articles to see that the people pushing it are the ones who have the money trail.

    It’s simple: If vaccines are caused by autism, then the children can be “recovered” through the ridiculously expensive and non-insurable “treatments” peddled by the leaders of the anti-vax movement. If it’s mercury toxicity, then pay the Geiers $50,000 to chemically castrate your child, pay Mercola $10,000 for supplements, pay someone else $5k a pop for chelation treatments, pay some crazy person in Costa Rica $70,000 for stem cell injections. These are the people pushing so hard for parents to beleive that vaccines are the problem. They are pushing it so they can sell a solution!

    But if autism is a birth defect, then there is no magic cure/cleanse/castration that will “recover” your child. Instead, you have a slow and sometimes frustrating road of occupational and educational therapy ahead of you, much of which is covered by insurance (like vaccines are) which means that the insurance companies pay out maybe 40% of the fees the doctors are charging.

    Dr. Bob Sears’ “delayed” vaccination schedule which resulted in his own patient causing a measles outbreak in California is the number one seller on Amazon. It’s making him HUGE amounts of money by preying on the fear of parents. Go into any OB waiting room and you can find Dr. Sears shilling for the ridiculously expensive cord blood banks as well. He also has a line of baby slings.

    The idea that rank and file doctors make money off vaccines is laughable. Hasn’t anyone looked at their insurance EOBs? I have. My doctor gets about 40% of her charges. Once you factor in the costs of hte injections themselves, she’s making maybe $5 a shot — and she has to pay her nurses, pay for syringes, keep the lights on in her office, and put food on her own kids’ table.

  12. Enkidu says:

    AllieP says: “On a lot of these parenting sites and playgroups, I run into parents who insist that they weren’t anti vax until they read up on it. Funny — I’ve ALSO done a ton of research, and it’s made me even MORE fervently pro-vax.”

    Ditto for me. After I had my daughter, who was 3 months premature, I started hearing the anti-vaxers on the parenting and preemie forums I was going to. The more I looked into their claims, the more pro-vax I became. Their arguments held no water and if pressed would always dissolve into “it’s a conspiracy.”

    As for iainwb’s question: “what is the motivation behind anti-vaccine propaganda?” that’s a tough one. Most of the anti-vaxers I know are anti-vax because of stories of vaccine-damaged children, either their own, their neighbor’s or someone’s testimonial that they read on the internet.

    Example: a good friend of mine just posted this today: http://iansvoice.org/default.aspx

    Now, was this child hurt by the HepB vaccine? We’ll never know. The parents are convinced that he was killed by the vaccine, but other than saying that the doctors said it wasn’t the HepB shot we are left to wonder if an official diagnosis was ever made. I have lots of questions reading this story. The parents state that “Before we knew it, Ian was born completely healthy” but then that, “soon they [the nurses] were saying he had a fever and would need to be taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for an assessment” just moments after birth. I can see how people can read a horrible, tragic story like this and not question the parents’ beliefs. You feel almost guilty to question what happened.

  13. alias says:

    The mother of my stepchildren is an anti-vaxer and into all the other kinds of woo that goes along with that. She is also an alternative therapist, so this somehow lends her credibility in all areas of medicine. She spends a fortune on giving the kids TCM, homeopathy etc. I’m told she even believes in kinesiology, ear candling, psychics, Amber teething necklaces… You name it.
    My husband also doesn’t believe in vaccination, mainly due to his ex. She’s read “studies” you see. Again, these are obviously not the studies that I’ve read. I’ve helped him to see the light with most of the woo, but he won’t budge on vaccine. It’s disappointing considering this is the one area that can cause the most harm.

  14. stanmrak says:

    We object to forced vaccinations because vaccines are not thoroughly tested for safety, and never have been. Any honest vaccine researcher will admit that the evidence for LONG-TERM safety just isn’t as substantial as they would like you to believe. 10-day studies just don’t cut it.

  15. David Gorski says:

    What utter tripe! Vaccines are among the most extensively tested and monitored medical interventions that exist. The reason is that they are preventive, and not therapeutic, meaning that they are administered to healthy children. Consequently, they have far more stringent risk-benefit ratio requirements.than treatments.

  16. ebohlman says:

    iainwb: Some have speculated that the common motivation is simply fear of needles, or more specifically revulsion at doing anything (momentarily) painful to a child. One of my own speculations is that some parents (generally mothers) believe that their love will or should prevent anything bad happening to their children and that vaccinating assumes they don’t love their kids enough to either prevent a vaccine-preventable disease (often by following dietary taboos) or to pull them through if they get one.

  17. Scott says:

    PubMed returns 381 hits on “vaccine safety long-term” (though not all are directly on-point). Obviously no research at all.

  18. stanmrak says:

    Anti-vaccine folks not going to trust studies that have any connection to the pharmaceutical industry (basically, all of them in some way – at least, the ones that get promoted in the media). The industry is primarily interested in making a profit, not in anyone’s health. Why would you trust them to do legitimate research? They kill 100,000+ people with their drugs every year.

    And how many vaccine injuries have to be reported before you start to question the “science” and realize that these are not coincidences?

    The anti-vaccine crowd isn’t as stupid as you make them out to be. And your science isn’t as infallable as you think.

  19. Harriet Hall says:

    @stanmrak, Read “Death by Medicine” at http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=136
    Then go away.

  20. David Gorski says:

    I do so love it when someone like stamrak shows up spewing the same tired old arguments that we’ve refuted time and time again, thinking that we or our readers will be the least bit impressed by them.

  21. Prometheus says:

    “stanmrak” dishes up a cold plate of anti-vaccination talking points:

    “We object to forced vaccinations because vaccines are not thoroughly tested for safety, and never have been.”

    To begin with, the only people in the US (and, I suspect, the UK and EU) who get “forced vaccinations” are members of the armed forces. In the US, public schools may require vaccination or a parental statement of religious or philosophical objection before children are allowed to enroll.

    Even in those states that do not allow “philosophical objection”, vaccinations are not forced – nobody comes to your house, drags your kids into a van and immunises them without your permission.

    “Anti-vaccine folks not going to trust studies that have any connection to the pharmaceutical industry (basically, all of them in some way – at least, the ones that get promoted in the media).”

    From what I’ve seen, the “anti-vaccine folks” aren’t going to trust any studies that don’t produce the results they expect, which begs the question of why anyone would waste the time and resources doing studies to please the “anti-vaccine folks”.

    “The industry is primarily interested in making a profit, not in anyone’s health. Why would you trust them to do legitimate research? “

    While it is true that “the industry” (i.e. “Big Pharma”) is primarily interested in profit (that’s why any business exists, “stanmrak”), the profit motive is also a major factor encouraging them to make products that work and are safe. Remember what happened to Corvair sales after “Unsafe at Any Speed”?

    As for trusting the pharmaceutical companies to do “legitimate” research, well, that’s why we have the USFDA (and its counterparts elsewhere). Additionally, there are independent researchers continually evaluating the claims of medications, as we have seen. As I have pointed out before, if it wasn’t for the work of the USFDA and independent researchers, we wouldn’t know about the times that pharmaceutical companies have “fudged the data”. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than anything else that’s been tried.

    I suppose that “stanmrak” would like to have a group of independent researchers – preferrably ones who haven’t ever gotten grant money from the pharmaceutical industry or even “the government” (which is, after all, the entity supervising and approving the research done by “Big Pharma” – why trust them?) – to do long-term research on vaccines.

    I can see how that would be appealing.

    So, we’re going to write off researchers because sometime in their past they have taken money from “Big Pharma” or “the government”. And how far removed does the “Big Pharma” money have to be? Can a researcher have taken money from a foundation or institution that gets donations from “Big Pharma” or grant money from “the government”? How about getting funding from an advocacy group that gets donations from a foundation that gets donations from “Big Pharma”?

    In other words, how far are the “anti-vaccine folks” going to stretch their paranoid delusions of “contamination” in order to keep ignoring the data piling up at their feet?

    But I digress.

    And after eliminating all researchers contaminated by “Big Pharma” and “the government”, shouldn’t we also eliminate those researchers who have “conflicts of interest” on the “anti-vaccination” side, as well? So, anyone who markets or receives money from the sale of “alternative” remedies that are in competition with vaccines (i.e. that claim to prevent or treat vaccine-preventable diseases or treat the so-called “complications” of vaccines) is obviously “off the list”.

    And I suppose we need to eliminate anyone who gets money from “Little Pharma” (e.g. supplement manufacturers and distributors, homepathic remedy makers, etc.). And, for good measure, we should also eliminate people who have been paid as “expert witnesses” in vaccine tort litigation.

    Who’s left?

    Not that the lack of researchers in any way would discomfit the “anti-vaccine folks”, since I percieve that their strategy is to continue to sow seeds of doubt while objecting (with cries of “Corruption!”, “Conflict of interest!” and “Bias!”) to any and all real research that is (or has been) done. They don’t really want a study because they know, deep down, that the results wouldn’t be what they want. They know this because the data are already in front of them.

    Prometheus

  22. David Gorski says:

    Come to think of it, “stanmrak” sounds familiar. I think I’ve encountered him before somewhere online in some discussion forum or on some blog or other. Then I remembered: Stan Mrak. I think it’s this guy:

    http://www.selfgrowth.com/experts/stan_mrak

    His personal statement there says:

    I have been doing independent nutritional research for over 30 years, and have applied many of the principles I’ve learned over that time to my own diet and lifestyle. At age 59, my exceptional health and abundant energy levels reflect the successful application of these principles.

    I believe that virtually all degenerative-type diseases can be prevented through a superior diet of unprocessed foods and an intelligently-designed program of nutritional supplements.

    Among the experts I consider my “mentors” are Dr. Richard Passwater, Gary Null, Dr. Joseph Mercola, Mike Adams at Natural News and Dr. Russell Blaylock, among others.

    Much of the information I’ve accumulated is available at my website at http://www.antioxidants-for-health-and-longevity.com, which is one the highest-rated nutritional websites listed among the over 600 in the selfgrowth.com directory.

    If our “stanmrak” is, in fact, Stan Mrak, that would certainly explain a lot.

  23. pdm says:

    Wow, it seems to me that neither side here is really presenting any “data” or facts about the views they have. You’re really just angry that the people that are opposing your views are…well opposing them.

    The article and each comment that was presented here does nothing but fuss that there are people out there with differing views. Of course people who write research about a subject are going to have strong feeling about the topic and are probably linked to that topic in one way or another. Medical professionals are going to support immunizations; alternative health providers are going to support no immunizations. Are we really that surprised! There is no chance that either side will ever publish data that supports the other side, what benefit would that have for them. And it is also unlikely that the people doing the research are neutral to the outcome. Do you really think it is possible these professionals aren’t linked, either by funding or belief to the data they present. Each group will always skew it to what they want. It is ignorant to think differently. Only a true scientist with no interest in the actual outcome will ever present data in an honest way. As long as it is researched and reported by medical professionals, alternative or otherwise the information will most definitely fit what they want to convenience the public of and if it is peer reviewed by like- minded professionals, who is going to stop it from getting published and from hitting the mass media?

    Each person who commented about “having done my own Research and I’m now more Pro-Vax than ever” did nothing to support that statement. What research, what reports? This seems to be a forum where people can show no real science or medical facts for their statements; they can just fuss about other peoples. And the gentleman who wrote the article against the research publishing showed no facts to support his argument, he just critically reviewed the study and showed how unsubstantiated the data was but he offered no data of his own.

    The paper was probably poorly written and the documentation inept but why not provide some of your own data that actually disproves the research instead of complaining that you didn’t like it…and your attack on sham.. A little juvenile, don’t you think. It seems your angry with a lifestyle someone chose because it differs from what you think and believe. I am not a DR or a famous researcher but I would think that Nutrition would be a huge factor in longevity and health. Why would you mock that? As a Science based medicine forum. Where was your science?

    I have not studied up on it, I have not done any research, I am clearly not as informed as your many opinionate readers/posters but this is a subject that is interesting to me. I will say that I have a very diverse group of friends all having children. I have listened to both arguments and the one thing that I have been witness to is that the friends that I have who did immunize; their children always seemed to be sick. Ear infections, bronchitis, tonsillitis, colds, strep. You name it. Almost all of them at some point had to have their tonsils removed. And they also had more sensitivities to have allergies either food or environment. Poor Johnny is allergic to milk and peanuts, vinyl carpet and outside. Totally sucks to be Johnny. Ice cream and picnics rock.

    On the other hand, rarely did my hippie loving, veggie eating, tree hugging, nature will heal us all, friends children have these problems. These people for whatever reason chose not to immunize and their children appeared to be healthier. Most of them are teenagers now and never had any of the health issues the other children had. That may or may not be a correlation but it is enough to make me wonder, did the immunizations weaken the infant immune system or are the hippies just more concerned overall with the health of their bodies and therefore their children would have better diets and exercise routines. Is it possible that even if given the shots, they still would have remained healthier than the other children because of those basic facts? Maybe I’ll do the research!

    I personally believe there is a great need for both alternative heath and the medical health communities. I would prefer to use alternative solutions as preventative health care. See if there is a way to get better by facilitating my body’s own natural resources first, doing my best to avoid drugs and surgeries if at all possible. But as a good friend of mine said. “I will take vitamins, and eat right and do my best to allow my body to work and heal naturally but if I get hit by a bus, don’t take me to an Herb shop. Take me to a hospital.”

    Maybe one day as each science continues to expand and grow we will be able to find a medium and see the need and give value to each other’s individual philosophy’s…then we can all work together and gang up on those people who believe in religion.
    See you there,

  24. Scott says:

    @ pdm:

    Take a look at the Vaccines category here. You’ll see that there is a GREAT deal of information presented demonstrating the safety and efficacy of vaccination, and thoroughly deconstructing the outright falsehoods used to oppose them.

    When a particular post is about a particular paper, OF COURSE it will focus on that paper instead of attempting to re-prove the entire affirmative case in the other direction. If every single post on a topic had to do that, well, they’d all be 50 times as long as Dr. Gorski’s normal loghorrhea. At least.

    I personally believe there is a great need for both alternative heath and the medical health communities.

    Then you personally believe a falsehood. “Alternative” health, by definition, consists only of those methodologies which either have been demonstrated to NOT work, or where there is insufficient evidence either way to draw a firm conclusion. Once it’s demonstrated to work, it becomes SBM.

Comments are closed.