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New Zealanders – opportunity to learn how our immune systems work Grant Jacobs May 15

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If you’re interested in immunisation, vaccines or viruses*—or all of these—here’s your chance to hear Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty speak on The Killer Defence to disease at Palmerston North, Auckland, Dunedin, Hastings and New Plymouth.**

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More details and the booking form (click the large blue ‘Register now’ button) are available on the Royal Society of New Zealand website.

His first talk was yesterday,*** but the last four talks are to be held over May 16th – May 23rd.

He’ll be promoting his new book, Sentinel Chickens(You may be able to pick a copy up from the events – ?)

He’s the author of several other books including The Beginner’s Guide To Winning The Nobel Prize: A Life In Science and Pandemics: What Everyone Needs to Know. (He also advocated Seth Mnookin‘s book The Panic Virus® that I’ve previously reviewed.)

We’ve often written about vaccines here at sciblogs. Recently Helen Pertousis-Harris’, head of Auckland University’s Immunisation Advisory Centre has joined us with her blog, Diplomatic Immunity. A recent post by Siouxsie Wiles looks at the coronavirus originates from Saudi Arabia that epidemiologists and virologists are keeping an eye on. A few of mine are listed below.

Footnotes

* Including the dangerous-to-humans Ebola and Hendra viruses.

** Note there appear to be two talks at Dunedin, May 20th and May 21st.

*** This is the first notice I’ve had of the lecture tour, too.


Other articles on Code for life (further reading can be found in the links at the end of these articles):

Immunisation then and now

Vaccination – why learn the hard way?

Are too many vaccines too soon harmful?

Vaccination rates in NZ and what do those that delay infant immunisation think?

Thoughts on, and for, those trying to choose to vaccinate or not

Fact or fallacy, a survey of immunisation statements in the print media

Are too many vaccines too soon harmful? Grant Jacobs Apr 29

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Parents want the best for their children. One concern raised by those holding off giving their children vaccines[1] are if too many vaccines too soon might be bad for their child, in particular if several vaccines given together might increase the risk of their child suffering neurological damage.[2]

A recent study addresses specifically this question.

Things that trigger an immune response are called antigens.

To compare how much “stuff” in vaccines you gave to different children, you want to compare the number of antigens you gave them.

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition.

By comparing the number of vaccine antigens given to children with if they had autism or not, you can ask if the number of vaccine antigens affected the neurological condition of the children. (At least for autism.)

Autism spectrum disorders become apparent when the child is around 2-3 years old, so vaccines given up to two years of age where studied.

The researchers used data gathered during a previous study, using data from 256 children with ASD and 752 matched controls.

Two main different types of comparisons were made:

  1. The total number of antigens from vaccines given up to either of 3 months, 7 months or two years old
  2. The largest number of antigens given in any one day

They found that children that received different numbers of vaccine antigens all had the same chance of getting autism – the number of antigens the child received from their vaccines did not make a difference to the chance the child would develop autism.

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Vaccination – why learn the hard way? Grant Jacobs Jan 19

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People concerned about those who have fallen hard for anti-vaccine myths often ruminate that perhaps the only way they’ll learn is by people they care about falling seriously ill from vaccine-preventable illnesses.

The community-wide first-hand memory of epidemics of vaccine-preventable illnesses is now largely gone. But people could learn from the mistakes of a few, such as the Williams family.

Natalie Akoorie’s article puts it well,

Auckland couple Ian and Linda Williams thought they had made an informed decision against immunising their three children because of concerns over adverse reactions.

But they regretted their decision when middle child Alijah contracted the potentially fatal disease just before Christmas, and was put in an induced coma on life support at Starship hospital.

You don’t want this to happen to your family, eh?

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Immunisation Awareness Society followers – what the new page rules show Grant Jacobs Jan 14

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On the rare occasions that I have written about vaccine ‘concern’ groups, my interests have been with the accuracy of their claims and how readers who are uncertain about the science can recognise inaccurate claims.

A related element is if the source is trustworthy.

Sometimes this is easier to deal with as you don’t need to grapple with the details of the science, but simply understand the group’s actions and aims.

My aim is to alert readers of the IAS what the ‘page rules’ in the end of the IAS Facebook ‘About’ page are setting out to do and why these rules show the IAS is not worth your trust.[1]

Realistically this article will probably be mostly read by my usual readers, but hopefully a few who have read the IAS page will consider what I have to offer. Don’t feel shy about writing and offering your thoughts. (Politely, of course!)

The thoughts offered below equally apply to other forums.

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Structured procrastination, 2 Dec 2012 Grant Jacobs Dec 03

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Another edition of my irregular structured procrastination reading lists – have fun exploring these. (Geekier ones nearer the end.)

Sci-fi movie

Geneticist Ricki Lewis offers a review of Jim, which she says is more compelling than GATTACA. The movie can be viewed on-line. (If you watch it, let me know what you think.)

Gene-based dating

You think gene-based dating in sci-fi? It’s already with us. See also this twitter conversation. (There’s also a service that matches dates by their dogs.)

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Whole genome sequencing for serious vaccine complaints? Grant Jacobs Nov 30

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While I work on longer pieces, a stray thought: how far away are we from genome screening for (court) inquiries about ‘vaccine damage’ so that those with genetic causes might be resolved promptly?

A number of countries maintain databases of reports of possible adverse reactions to medications. For possible vaccine reactions, in New Zealand we have the CARM database[1]; in the USA there is VAERS.

In the USA claims for ‘vaccine damage’ can be filed to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

I imagine these proceedings can take considerable time and cost. What fraction of the alleged cases of ‘vaccine damage’ are in fact rare genetic defects? How many of these case are in effect a cohort of sorts of rare disorders like mitochondrial defect conditions, heart disorders, seizure disorders (e.g. Dravet syndrome) – with genetic causes? Will it be pragmatic soon to routinely screen these cases for genetic conditions?

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A vaccine discussion forum Grant Jacobs Oct 17

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Introducing the New Zealand Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) forum.

Some time ago while mulling over what science writing (blogging) groups might offer parents with questions about vaccinations, Thoughts on, and for, those trying to choose to vaccinate or not, I came to thinking[1] that in the absence of discussion forums set up by those with expertise in immunisation, a useful compromise might be to ask at science writing groups. It is important that people with relevant expertise be present and that discussions be open.[2]

After I wrote that article I become aware of the New Zealand Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) forum.

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How vaccines work – a primer Grant Jacobs Oct 13

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A useful primer on how vaccines work can be found on-line at the CDC website (PDF file). At just two pages long it doesn’t go into depth, but it gives an outline of the immune system and how vaccines work. In particular, it lists the different types of vaccines and explains why multiple doses can be needed.

For many this may be enough depth. For those needing wanting more, but who are new to the topic, it provides a useful starting point that has more than the one-paragraph ‘sound bites’ seen on many websites.

This primer was prepared drawing on material from the Understanding Vaccines pages at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Further information can be found at the CDC’s information for parents (including a flyer [PDF file] for those the choose not to vaccinate to understand the risks and responsibilities).

For New Zealanders, further information can be found at IMAC, the New Zealand Immunisation Advisory Centre.

(H/T to Liz Ditz for tweeting the link to the flyer.)


Other articles on Code for life:

Thoughts on, and for, those trying to choose to vaccinate or not

Fact or fallacy, a survey of immunisations statements in the print media

Immunisation then and now

Sources for medical information for non-medics and non-scientists

Monday potpourri: maps, malaria in the USA, cholera in Dunedin and vaccines

The Panic Virus Grant Jacobs Sep 18

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…is the bold title of Seth Mnookin’s exploration of the ‘vaccination debate’.[1]

The Panic Virus® is a ruminative, thoughtful, exploration of vaccine history and, in particular, how people come to think the things that they do.

Not too many popular science books are headlined with the support of Nobel laureate – if you look closely you’ll see Peter Doherty’s praise for the book at the top of the cover to the left.

It surveys key events – without minutiae that you might get from an historian. It draws on the reader to do their own thinking slightly more than Offit’s Deadly Choices but is lighter than Allen’s Vaccine, which at 500+ pages is a much more lengthy affair.

I especially appreciated that the material seemed well-balanced with negative points in public health, for example, presented plainly without excuses and criticism given where it seemed deserved.[2] Vaccination is a topic that’s easy to polarise or to stick to one side of the fence. Mnookin does pretty well to see it both ways.

He touches on some of cognitive dissonances involved, where some of the poor thinking arises from and these emerge as a key underlying themes.

This from the blurb,

“Wakefield eventually lost his medical licence, yet the myth that vaccines cause developmental disorders lives on. In The Panic Virus Seth Mnookin examines how the anti-immunisation panic spread and looks at a controversial Australian case that exposed the claims and tactics of the movement to new scrutiny. Sorting fact from rumour, he confronts fundamental questions: with more facts at our fingertips than ever, why is our trust in science so fragile? Has the internet made us better informed, or simply enabled panic to spread more quickly? And how might we balance fact and intuition when it comes to decisions about children’s health?”

The book, in part, tracks the author‘s personal exploration into parents and their relationship with vaccination information starting from his own new parenthood and dinner parties,

“The more I pushed my friend, the more defensive he grew. Sure, I said, there had to be something tangible, some experiment of epidemiological survey, that informed his decisions. There wasn’t I was even more taken aback when he said he likely would have done the same thing even if he’d been present with conclusive evidence that the MMR vaccine was safe.” (From the Introduction, p11.)

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Dodgy experts in the coroner’s inquest into Jasmine Renata’s death? Grant Jacobs Aug 09

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In the news lately is a coroner’s inquest into the death of Rhonda Renata’s daughter, Jasmine. Rhona Renata pins her daughter’s death on the HPV vaccine Gardasil despite suggestions to (also) investigate other causes such as heart disease.

While considering if I should write something on this well-known blogger ‘Orac’* has spoken out. In particular, he questions if two of the expert witnesses are fair or reasonable.

He notes that one (Dr. Lee) was sacked from his hospital:

“One wonders if the inquest board was aware that Dr. Lee was unceremoniously given the boot as director of the diagnostic laboratory at Milford Hospital in December 2010.”

and presents aspects of the past track record of another (Dr. Shaw).**

New Zealander Hilary Butler, founder of IAS***, also gets a mention.

Read Orac’s article out for yourself. One commenter, herr doktor bimler (4:06am), writes:

“The coroner is not completely uninformed. Right at the start of the inquest, he invited testimony from a high-ranking public-health adviser (about the checks that had been performed on this particular batch of Gardasil, and about the information available for informed choice) from a cardiologist; from the nurse.

I suspect that the coroner knows perfectly well about Dr Lee’s current situation of self-employment, but one aspect of his job is to let grieving families say whatever makes them feel better… and if this involves letting their experts’ claims about professional standing go unchallenged, so be it.”

Perhaps the issue, then, is not that the coroner be aware of these elements but that the general public be aware of them?

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