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Posts Tagged IAS complaint

Anti-Vaccine Charity, No More Darcy Cowan Nov 07

108 Comments

Last year I wrote a series of posts[1] around the Charitable organisation Immunisation Awareness Society and a complaint I had made to the Charities Commission. The Thrust of these posts and the complaint was that the Society does not fulfill the requirements of a charity and should be removed from the register. The effect of this is that they would also be stripped of their tax exempt status.

This indeed was my main goal. There are innumerable groups out there that I don’t agree with but you get that in a wide and varied world. In the case of the IAS though the speech they engage is is effectively publicly subsidised via the tax exemption, this should mean that they are constrained in what they can say. At the very least it should mean that they must present the facts undistorted by ideology.

Yesterday I found out that the Charities Commission agrees with me. In a decision handed down late last month they determined that the IAS does not qualify for charitable status and removed them from the charities register.

So, I guess you could say – I won.

It the words of one of my colleagues it also shows that one person can make a difference. Clichéd but true.

Reading through the Charities Commission decision it seems they focused on two things:

1. The biased nature of the information provided by the IAS and;

2. The political nature of their campaigning for a change in public policy.

This makes sense given the requirements that the Commission need to fulfil to determine whether an organisation meets the requirements to be a charity. Even so I’m a bit disappointed that there was no focus on the factual inaccuracy of and misrepresentation in the materials published by the IAS.

The decision does seem to skirt this line though when stating that  “Overwhelmingly, the information on the website argues that vaccination is ineffective and dangerous” the inference being that is view is incorrect as well as being biased. Even so, none of the language of the report actually states this outright (that I can see).

There was also an additional point touched on that merely providing information does not in and of itself “advance education”. In other words to be an educational charity you actually have to actively educate people, not simply act as a repository of information – otherwise every private citizen with a decent library or informational website could become a charity.

Finally, in my personal 15 minutes of fame, the Commissions decision has been reported in the Dominion Post – complete with a quote from me. Not my most eloquent moment but it’s close enough to the point I wanted to make that I’m fairly happy.

[Edit: Thanks goes to commenter Hemlock for sharing the IAS response to this news]

——————————————————————————————————————-

1.  And here they are in all their tedious glory:
https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/anti-vaccine-charities-is-there-any-quality-control-on-charities/

https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/ias-complaint-part-1-thimerosal-in-your-vaccine-no/

https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/ias-complaint-part-2-gardasil-horrors-horrific-reasoning/

https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/ias-complaint-part-3-vaccine-ingredients-not-so-bad-really/

https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/ias-complaint-part-4-anti-vaccine-impact-in-new-zealand/

https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/defending-the-term-anti-vaccine/

https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/the-legitimate-risks-of-vaccines/

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Filed under: Medicine, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism Tagged: Health and Medicine, IAS complaint, Science and Society, Vaccination, Vaccine

Anti-Vaccine Charity, No More Darcy Cowan Nov 07

No Comments

Last year I wrote a series of posts[1] around the Charitable organisation Immunisation Awareness Society and a complaint I had made to the Charities Commission. The Thrust of these posts and the complaint was that the Society does not fulfill the requirements of a charity and should be removed from the register. The effect of this is that they would also be stripped of their tax exempt status.

This indeed was my main goal. There are innumerable groups out there that I don’t agree with but you get that in a wide and varied world. In the case of the IAS though the speech they engage is is effectively publicly subsidised via the tax exemption, this should mean that they are constrained in what they can say. At the very least it should mean that they must present the facts undistorted by ideology.

Yesterday I found out that the Charities Commission agrees with me. In a decision handed down late last month they determined that the IAS does not qualify for charitable status and removed them from the charities register.

So, I guess you could say – I won.

It the words of one of my colleagues it also shows that one person can make a difference. Clichéd but true.

Reading through the Charities Commission decision it seems they focused on two things:

1. The biased nature of the information provided by the IAS and;

2. The political nature of their campaigning for a change in public policy.

This makes sense given the requirements that the Commission need to fulfil to determine whether an organisation meets the requirements to be a charity. Even so I’m a bit disappointed that there was no focus on the factual inaccuracy of and misrepresentation in the materials published by the IAS.

The decision does seem to skirt this line though when stating that  “Overwhelmingly, the information on the website argues that vaccination is ineffective and dangerous” the inference being that is view is incorrect as well as being biased. Even so, none of the language of the report actually states this outright (that I can see).

There was also an additional point touched on that merely providing information does not in and of itself “advance education”. In other words to be an educational charity you actually have to actively educate people, not simply act as a repository of information – otherwise every private citizen with a decent library or informational website could become a charity.

Finally, in my personal 15 minutes of fame, the Commissions decision has been reported in the Dominion Post – complete with a quote from me. Not my most eloquent moment but it’s close enough to the point I wanted to make that I’m fairly happy.

[Edit: Thanks goes to commenter Hemlock for sharing the IAS response to this news]

——————————————————————————————————————-

1.  And here they are in all their tedious glory:
https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/anti-vaccine-charities-is-there-any-quality-control-on-charities/

https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/ias-complaint-part-1-thimerosal-in-your-vaccine-no/

https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/ias-complaint-part-2-gardasil-horrors-horrific-reasoning/

https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/ias-complaint-part-3-vaccine-ingredients-not-so-bad-really/

https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/ias-complaint-part-4-anti-vaccine-impact-in-new-zealand/

https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/defending-the-term-anti-vaccine/

https://scepticon.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/the-legitimate-risks-of-vaccines/

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Filed under: Medicine, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism Tagged: Health and Medicine, IAS complaint, Science and Society, Vaccination, Vaccine

The Legitimate Risks of Vaccines Darcy Cowan Oct 18

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This post is about those risks that vaccines do carry and that we can discuss in a rational way, as opposed to the fairytale risks that the anti-vaccine camp comes up with to vilify vaccinations.

Those who advocate vaccine use are often portrayed as denying any harm from vaccines and arguing that vaccines are completely safe, even that everyone should be given vaccines. This I think is an example of projection. Those in the anti-vaccine camp may become convinced of the absolute evil of vaccines, they then project the mirror image of this certainty onto vaccine supporters, warping the reasoned position taken into some sort of ideologically driven madness.

No-one I know who supports vaccine use argues that vaccines are completely safe, we realise that total safety is a naive concept, one that undermines the real discussion we must undertake based on relative safety and risk vs benefit.

I mentioned a few risks that can reasonably be discussed in this previous post. I’ll cover a few more here but must point out that the overall risks associated with vaccines are still lower than those associated with the diseases immunised against.

The first risk I’ll cover is intussusception with rotavirus vaccines. In the late 1990s a rotavirus vaccine RotaShield® was put into use, within months it was found that there was an increase in intussusception associated with the vaccine. Intussusception is a form of bowel obstruction that consists of the bowel folding in on itself. An investigation of the vaccine determined that this bowel obstruction was up to thirty times more likely in infants that had received the vaccine. On the back of this information the manufacturer voluntarily withdrew the vaccine from use.

As a result of this new Rotavirus vaccines are closely monitored for intussusception risk. The current Rotavirus vaccine used in New Zealand, Rotarix®, has been monitored and found to have a low risk of intussusception translating to between 0 and 4 extra cases of intussusception per 100,000 infants. It is noted that these are “extra” cases of intussusception as the background level has been found to be approximately 34 cases per 100,000 infants per year (ie the total number of cases would go from 34 to 38 per 100,000).

I found a paper published just prior to 2000 that estimated that the incidence of hospitalisation due to rotavirus was approximately 315 to 362/100,000 annually in New Zealand. A report from 2002 estimated that deaths from intussusception in developed countries (specifically the USA) might be approximately 4 deaths per 100,000 live births. Given this the risks associated with the vaccine are considered to be lower than the risks of the disease.

Moving on, MMRV vaccine is considered to come with an increased risk of febrile convulsions compared with the separate MMR and varicella (note the MMRV vaccine is not currently available in New Zealand). Febrile convulsions (or seizures) are seizures caused by high temperatures and are quite common in childhood. I have not been able to find any information that indicates febrile convulsions per se are a danger, normally these are caused by infections and it is the infection that is considered the dangerous component. As these infections are what are aimed to be prevented by the vaccine then it can be reasonably concluded that the risk from the vaccine is much less than that of the prevented diseases.

A recent interesting case of a vaccine side-effect was the increase in narcolepsy incidence in Finland for the H1N1 vaccine Pandemrix. A press release from the Finland National Narcolepsy Taskforce was recently released and noted:

“In all the cases examined, narcolepsy associated with Pandemrix vaccination has been identified in persons who carry a genetic risk factor for narcolepsy. Because of this very strong association with the genetic risk factor which regulates immune responses, narcolepsy is considered an immune-mediated disease”

and:

“In addition to Finland, Sweden is so far the only other country which by using epidemiological research has confirmed an increase in narcolepsy cases associated with pandemic vaccination. In Sweden, too, the increased risk of narcolepsy has been observed specifically in children and adolescents. The added risk associated with vaccination was about three cases of narcolepsy in every 100 000 persons vaccinated.”

Finally and importantly:

“During the influenza season 2010—2011, 52 persons were treated in intensive care, and 13 succumbed. Most of these were unvaccinated. Combining the data on morbidity and mortality with data on vaccinations in the 2009—2010 pandemic season indicate that a swine flu vaccination taken in the pandemic season had  provided 75—88 per cent protection against the swine flu virus in winter 2010—2011. Based on these figures, it has been estimated that during the second wave, the swine flu vaccine prevented approximately 40 000 cases of swine flu.

The Task Force concurs with the European Medicines Agency’s estimate that, despite the unforeseen and deeply regrettable cases of narcolepsy, the overall benefit-risk balance remains positive.”

This is an important point to remember. Medicine is a risk benefit analysis, virtually all interventions carry an element of risk and we must use the available information to determine if the benefits outweigh those risks. In the case of this vaccine it was determined that the benefits were great enough.

Finally, there is a risk to immunodeficient individuals who receive live virus vaccines. This is seen in the case of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). It has been estimated that the risk of developing vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis (VAPP) in the general population is approximately 1 in 2.4 – 13 million oral polio vaccine doses. As the vaccine is multi-dose this breaks down to a 1 in 750,000 risk after the first dose. Immunodeficient individuals are at a much greater risk, possibly as high as 1 in 100-200.

As noted previously, this information allows us to make a determination of the risks of the vaccine under each situation. As such the OPV is no longer recommended in areas where polio is under control and the population will not come into contact with the wild strain and immunodeficient patients are not given the vaccine.

A recurrent theme here is the evaluation of both the risks and the benefits of vaccines. One cannot be properly assessed without the other, over-emphasis of one side of the equation will lead to a biased conclusion and decisions that may be costly in terms of human life. I must stress however that this attempt at a balanced what occurs all the time in science, new information is always coming in and must be incorporated into the existing body of knowledge.

In some cases this results in the removal of vaccines from use (eg RotaShield®) or the restriction of their use (OPV). The charge that science is blind to the potential drawbacks of vaccines and vaccination programmes is simply false.

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Filed under: Sciblogs Tagged: IAS complaint

Defending The Term ’Anti-Vaccine’ Darcy Cowan Oct 17

6 Comments

I have spent some time recently labelling the IAS as anti-vaccine. They themselves categorically state that they are not anti-vaccine. Who am I to say that I’m right and they are wrong?

Well, nobody really. I can’t read their minds, although if I could would that change anything? All anyone can do is examine their output, and that of others, and try to make a determination as to whether it is more consistent with an impartial, or simply safety concious, approach to vaccines and vaccination or an anti-vaccine stance.

I hope that my previous posts have demonstrated that the IAS in particular produces anti-vaccine rather than balanced vaccine safety material.  The mission of the IAS is to cast doubt on the safety and efficacy of vaccines not to educate responsibly about the real concerns and limitations of vaccine use. If this was their aim they could do a much better job. Look at the articles produced on their website and you will see many that promote the “dangers” of vaccinations, try to discredit health campaigns and generally aim to undermine public confidence in vaccines.

An organisation concerned about vaccine safety and promoting responsible use of vaccines might write about reducing wide-scale vaccination in favour of targeted vaccination of at risk populations. Perhaps They would also try to work with health authorities to examine ways in which vaccine production can be improved (better production techniques might avoid allergy issues mentioned below), or ways in which the distribution of vaccines can be made more effective and thereby reducing the need to preservatives that are thought by them to be harmful.

It is important to note that someone can be concerned about the safety of vaccines while not being anti-vaccine at the same time. I alluded to this above, but there are legitimate safety issues surrounding vaccine use and vaccines should indeed be closely scrutinised prior to mass roll-out via safety and efficacy trials and post roll-out via surveillance systems and doctors reports. It is a valid complaint that procedures are not always carried out effectively.

Sometimes though they are carried out quite effectively and in a follow-up post I will look at a couple of examples of this. The trouble is that often when a “danger” of vaccines is reported more coverage is given to the sensationalistic claims than the eventual explanation. Also (perhaps because of this) these claims have a tendency to hang around and affect public sentiment long after the coast is clear from a safety standpoint.

As I mentioned there are real risks associated with vaccine use, there are known side effects that can have implications for the health of a small number of vaccine recipients. One of the more obvious being allergic reactions to the vaccine ingredients. Those with egg allergies are urged to use vaccines cultured via chicken embryos with caution and may be unable to receive the vaccine at all. There can be other serious and not so serious or transitory side effects for specific vaccines and effects that are general to vaccines (such as redness, soreness, syncope etc).

As such there are a variety of non-histrionic ways that vaccine safety can be discussed, without impugning the general safety of vaccines. Likewise reasonable conversations may be had regarding relative efficacy of vaccine preparations against the myriad of infectious agents that we are exposed to as well as discussions about cost effectiveness of mass vaccination for low incidence infections.

Serotype replacement (or replacement disease) is another issue that can be raised. As infectious strains are targeted by vaccines there is the possibility that other strains that were less important in the pathology of disease become more prominent once the “Top Dog” has been removed.

Encouraging the production and research into more effective vaccines that give better or more long lasting protection could also be a fruitful line of approach. Perhaps we could focus on immunogenicity, better adjuvants would give a vaccine the ability to provoke a stronger immune response, possibly with fewer antigens – as has already been achieved with modern vaccines. If vaccines are improved in this way then there will likely be more local reactions with the inclusion better adjuvants. This again is a reasonable discussion to have.

The lack of large RCTs on all vaccines and the challenges of working around this (for example ethics prohibit withdrawing a measles vaccines then trying a new one against a placebo). The types of studies required or currently used to give us the appropriate information to act upon is something that we can all try to resolve together.

All these things are such that reasonable people may disagree and we should be able to marshal evidence based (rather than emotive) arguments to discover the optimal us of vaccines in society. To my reading of the IAS, their output appears limited to vitriolic and divisive attacks on health authorities and other informational agencies, vilification of pharmaceutical companies, fearmongering over the alleged dangers of vaccination and downplaying the risks of infectious diseases.

Where we start treading into anti-vaccination territory is when we start to become entrenched in a view that sees vaccination as an evil unto itself, perpetrated in the name of profits by immoral pharmaceutical companies and carried out by unethical doctors who are either ignorant dups or willing accomplices. Those who take this stance may make all of the reasonable arguments that I outline above but also be resistant to evidence that contradicts their views and committed to a general non-vaccine outlook.

In discussing this it is very difficult to convey the range of views that may be represented. Obviously we all exist on a spectrum – from fully pro-vaccine to recalcitrant anti-vaccine. It can also be very difficult to determine the views of people in conversation. I prefer to err on the side of caution and assume people are generally well intentioned and open to evidence until proven otherwise.

One of the defining characteristics of the anti-vaccination crowd, it seems to me, is the hyping of dangers far beyond what the evidence supports. As can be seen in some of the attacks on vaccine ingredients, lists of ingredients are given and scary information accompanies them with the toxicological effects of these compounds on living organisms. In these cases  though the dose is often ignored. Dose response is one of the corner stones of medicine and the dose makes the poison. Drink large quantities of formaldehyde and you’re in trouble, but in the tiny doses found in vaccines your body can easily handle it. as noted in a previous post our bodies actually make formaldehyde as part of normal metabolism and the amount found in vaccines is far smaller than that made by the normal process of living.

When it comes down to the bottom line – Vaccines work, and they actually perform that holy grail of CAM, “boosting” the immune system and allowing the body to heal itself. Not in some vague, feel good alternative medicine way but in real objectively measurable and observable ways. Your immune system is primed to react to infectious agents in such a way as to reduce the amount of time that it takes for an effective immune response to be mounted against the pathogen.

With this priming your body can fight off infections much more efficiently and this translates into keeping us healthy, or reducing the severity of diseases. While we can debate the finer points of vaccine safety and efficacy in the end we have a system that works and has saved many lives. I see that as a win.

[for more on this topic see this post from David Gorski of Science-Based Medicine published last year]

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Filed under: Alternative medicine, Medicine, Psychological, Questionable Techniques, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism Tagged: anti-vaccine, antivax, health, IAS complaint, Immunization, Science, Science and Society, Vaccination, Vaccine

IAS Complaint Part 4: Anti-Vaccine Impact in New zealand Darcy Cowan Oct 14

175 Comments

Finally in the series of extracts from my IAS Charity complaint, I give a brief look at the impact of anti-vaccine information in New Zealand. I also bring together information from other parts of the complaint that have not been covered in the extracts so far.

Impact of Anti-Vaccinationist Misinformation in New Zealand

Maintaining a high level of vaccine coverage is important for reducing the probability of disease outbreaks and to limit the spread of disease in the community. Diseases (often) spread due to contact between infected and uninfected individuals. If the uninfected individual has partial protection from the disease due to immunisation then the disease will spread with more difficulty. This is often referred to as “Herd Immunity”.

Herd immunity does rest on several assumptions, one of which is that immunised individuals are spread evenly throughout the population. If pockets of unvaccinated individuals develop then diseases can gain a foothold in that part of the population and spread outward – even to vaccinated individuals. If parents in a community are convinced by the IAS information not to vaccinate their children then an in-road for disease is created and outbreaks can occur. As such this would constitute a detriment to both children and the wider community – in direct contradiction to the IAS stated charitable aims.

New Zealand has struggled to reach recommended vaccination levels in the past with the coverage rate in 2005 being only 77% at two years of age1. With such low rates of vaccine uptake in the population there is a risk of vaccine preventable disease outbreaks occurring in the population and putting children’s lives at risk. In fact this is happening now with the measles outbreak in Auckland. Health officials have linked this outbreak to lowered vaccine uptake attributable to anti-vaccine misinformation2.

Vaccine coverage for a disease such as measles needs to be at approximately 90% or greater in infant populations to prevent epidemics3. Despite a focus on increasing coverage since earlier this century and improving coverage since the 2005 survey New Zealand still only sees an average of 85% vaccination coverage in this age group, with some areas dropping as low as 75%4.

In 2004, just prior to the Vaccine Coverage survey, a study was performed to see what reasons parents gave for not vaccinating their children5. The results of the study found that many of the parents interviewed made a decision not to vaccinate based on perceived risk of the vaccines. The risks cited were common anti-vaccinationist misunderstandings, including linking vaccines to autism and the belief that children’s immune systems are weakened by immunisations.

While almost all of the study participants consulted their GP for vaccination information, this source was seen as biased. In fact many of the ’Pro-vaccine’ sources were considered biased and parents expressed interest in information provided by groups outside the ’medical establishment’ indicating distrust of medical advice on this topic in general. The Immunisation Awareness Society was explicitly listed as a source of information by 76% of survey respondents, along with Naturopaths and Homeopaths (43% and 48% of respondents respectively).

The Immunisation Advisory Centre is sufficiently concerned about misleading anti-vaccination claims that they have included a page dedicated to rebutting this information on their website6.

Conclusion

The IAS dispute that they are ’anti-vaccine’ both in their Charity ’Rules’ (3. Beliefs, subsection C7 and through comments on their website. This claim rings hollow though when the actual content of their writings is examined. Therefore it is important to look at the effective output of the ideologies, philosophies and stance of the charity rather than their explicit statements.

In regard to IAS staff and members, belief that they are acting in the public interest, belief that their materials constitute an educational resource and belief that they are in fact doing the right thing are not enough. I have no doubt that the founding members, the officers and members of IAS sincerely think that they are provide a public service and that their interpretation of the scientific facts is the correct one. This however only affords them the right to be respected as individuals and for their views to be given fair hearing, it does not constitute a right to charitable status and does not exempt their views from criticism.

The IAS has shown through their materials that, despite protestations to the contrary, their views are anti-vaccine. This entails that their views are factually and scientifically incorrect, that they have an agenda to reduce or stop vaccinations being performed and that through this their actions may translate into serious harm for individuals, the community and the public at large. The IAS currently enjoys charitable status, as such they are exempt from taxation on their income. This amounts to a government subsidy of anti-scientific and potentially harmful views.

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One last point, I am pretty clear to paint the IAS as anti-vaccine. They themselves deny this label, as mentioned above. But then I have a bias don’t I? Well, heres a link to a website that has the opposite bias, they list the IAS as on of their “100+ Great Anti-Vaccination Information Links“, I’d say that;s telling.

Footnotes:
1. NZ Vaccine coverage survey 2005
http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/pagesmh/6028/$File/national-childhood-immunisation-coverage-survey2005.pdf
found on:
http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/indexmh/national-childhood-immunisation-survey-2005

2. Stories covering the Aucland Measles outbreak:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/marlborough-express/news/5220199/Immunisation-rate-of-refusal-growing
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/immunisations/news/article.cfm?c_id=461&objectid=10553617
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/5222511/Measles-outbreak-likely-to-spread

3. Predictive model for Measles Outbreaks. Coverage at 15months should be >90%
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810912/pdf/10813154.pdf

4. Immunisation Coverage report 2010:
http://www.immune.org.nz/site_resources/Professionals/Research/2010_Immunisation_coverage_report.pdf
Found Here:
http://www.immune.org.nz/?t=603

5. Study looking at reasons NZ parents give for not vaccinating:
http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/117-1189/768/

6. IMAC website with anti-vaccination rebuttals:
http://www.immune.org.nz/?T=938

7. Charities Register page for IAS:
http://www.register.charities.govt.nz/CharitiesRegister/CharitySummary.aspx?id=17c102eb-e79c-de11-9604-0015c5f3da29

Filed under: Medicine, Psychological, Questionable Techniques, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism Tagged: anti-vaccine, antivax, IAS complaint, Science, Science and Society, Vaccine, vaccine ingredients, Vaccines

IAS Complaint Part 3: Vaccine ingredients — Not so bad really Darcy Cowan Oct 13

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Next up in our voyage of crank discovery, via extracts from my IAS charity complaint, is a breakdown of simplistic reasoning around vaccine ingredients. Again, I have reproduced elements of the original article here for your convenience.

The following example was posted as a look at vaccine ingredients in two parts. I will not be so lenient – Both in one for you.

Vaccine Ingredients – Part 1
posted May 6, 2011

This post contains a number of misunderstandings and falsehoods both explicitly stated and implied. The post lists the type of cell culture lines that viruses are cultivated in in order to create vaccines and then implies that the cells from these cultures are still found in the final vaccine product that is injected, including the emotive claim that we are injecting aborted foetal tissue into our children with the vaccine.

[Quote]
“I bought Sue Claridge’s fantastic book ’Investigate Before You Vaccinate,’ and turned to page 44 which states: ’The cell cultures used to grow the viruses and bacteria include monkey kidney (vero cells), foetal calf serum, chick embryo fluid, yeast and human diploid cells (cells from aborted human foetuses). WHAT?! You mean to tell me that we are injecting aborted human fetal cells into our babies?!”

This is incorrect.

While it is true that there are some cell lines used to culture viruses used in vaccines, it is inaccurate to say that we are injecting these cells into children. Once again precision in language is important, there are currently existing cell lines that were originally cultured using aborted foetal tissue. These cell lines used originated in the 1960s1, meaning that the cultures used now many cell replication generations removed from the original tissue and are now are simply cells grown for medical use – not foetuses.

The only vaccine in the New Zealand schedule to be developed using cell lines derived in this fashion is the MMR vaccine, due to the inability to grow Rubella virus in any other type of cell line2. Vaccines must also be purified before use in order to remove these cells prior to injection3,4. Following purification the cells of the original culture are no longer present.

The article then proceeds to give a laundry list of possible vaccine ingredients, with the implication that the levels of these compounds are harmful at the doses provided in the vaccine.

[Quote]
“…formaldehyde (an embalming fluid). SERIOUSLY?! Oh, it gets better!!! Some vaccines also contain mercury, aluminium, preservatives, stabilisers, lactose, sorbitol, sodium chloride, sucrose, sodium borate, magnesium chloride, sodium phosphate, hydrolised gelatine, neomycin, gentimicin, streptomycin and human albumin…”

This dose insensitivity of the anti-vaccine rhetoric is recurrent and important. All chemicals have a threshold above which they can have detrimental effects on human physiology, the question is whether this threshold is exceeded by vaccine ingredients. The medical community is in agreement that the answer to this question is ’no’. At this point the anti-vaccine community does not need to provide proof that the levels of compounds found in vaccines are harmful, the only goal is to raise questions about safety.

The United States CDC website has a page dedicated to vaccine ingredients and countering anti-vaccine questions about them5. The IAS article highlights that formaldehyde is used in vaccines and points out that this is used as an embalming fluid. The CDC website answers this question and it is telling that the IAS article does not mention that formaldehyde is also made in the body during normal metabolism. In fact it is calculated that a baby (depending on size) would have more than 50 times the amount of formaldehyde in its body naturally than it would get from a vaccine dose.

Most of the rest of the ingredients listed are stabilisers and preservatives of the vaccine components. Several such as sodium chloride (table salt) and sucrose (sugar) would not be considered harmful by most reasonable people. As such I will point out a small selection that would seem to be concerning and give the actual facts behind their use.

The first that would seem worrying is amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate. The approximate amount of this compound used in vaccines is 225 μg. Used as an adjuvant (a vaccine additive that modifies its effects) this ingredient actually makes the vaccine more potent by enhancing the body’s immune response to the vaccine. As such it has an 80 year track record of safety in vaccines6. Also, dietary sources of aluminium are not insignificant, estimated at 1.6-13 mg per day7 or 7-60 times that in the vaccine, even though bioavailability of chemicals is affected by the method of introduction to the body (oral vs injection) it’s hard to see how this minuscule amount would make any difference.

Another potentially scary sounding chemical in vaccines is sodium borate, the approximate dose per injection of vaccine is 35 μg. This is used to balance the pH. The LD50 (a measure of toxicity) for this compound is 2-3 g/kg in mammals8 and as such is actually slightly less toxic than table salt (~3 g/kg9), the 35 μg in the vaccine if given to a 50kg individual equals a 0.7 μg/kg dose, this isn’t even close to a dose high enough to cause even a minor problem.

The article goes on to make a specious assertion that we were ’created perfect as we are’ and that we shouldn’t need to inject ’formaldehyde and monkey cells’ into our bodies to make our immune systems work, if we did we would be ’born with it’.

[Quote]
“Weren’t we created perfect as we are? Do we really need to be ’fixed’ or ’made better’ by injecting these substances into our bodies? If we were meant to have formaldehyde and monkey cells in our bodies in order for our immune systems to work, wouldn’t we have been born with it?”

Aside from the unintended irony that we actually were born with formaldehyde in our bodies this claim is poor reasoning. By this criteria some of us would have also been ’born with’ glasses or contact lenses or hearing aids. This article also would appear to refute the utility of acquired immunity – if we needed foreign bodies in our system to make our immune systems work then we would have been born with them.

Finally the question is asked ’If we’re all suddenly going to get sick or die if we don’t get these vaccines, then how did we survive for tens of thousands of years without these ingredients inside us?’ ignoring for the moment that it is not the vaccine ingredients themselves that we need but rather the antigens in the vaccine that the rest of the ingredients stabilise and preserve, the simple answer to this question is ’millions of us didn’t survive’.

Vaccine Ingredients – Part 2
Posted May 9 2011

This post appears to be one long argument attempting to cast doubt on the level of knowledge we have regarding the operation of our immune system. By quoting from an anatomy and physiology text book10 and emphasising tentative sounding words such as ’appears’, ’may’ and ’apparently’ the author is attempting to show that the entire field on immunology is in doubt.

[Quote]
“On page 778, after talking about T cell maturation, it mentions that ’less is known about the factors that control B cell maturation in humans’ i.e. they haven’t quite figured out how B cells mature in our bodies yet. Another classic is on page 792, when they try to explain why the immune cells sometimes attack foreign human cells when a patient has received a graft. Their explanation is that ’apparently, [emphasis mine] the cytotoxic T cells sometimes ‘see’ the foreign class I MHC antigens as a combination of self class I MHC protein bound to foreign antigen’ i.e. they don’t actually [emphasis mine] know how it works, but this is their best guess.”

The fact that the text is dealing with minutia of the immune system down to the level of cell generation and activity seems to not persuade the author that in fact there is a great deal currently known about immunity and how our immune system works. To the point that it is considered feasible (by the author) that future text books will recall the use of vaccines and their ’toxic ingredients’ as complete folly.

The level of argument here is such that similar reasoning could be used to show that since the fluid dynamics at the edges of aircraft wing tips is not completely worked out, in the future we may discover that airplanes cannot fly after all. The point of this parody is to show that the author is confusing knowledge of mechanism with knowledge of efficacy. We know vaccines work, study upon study of new and old vaccines verify this fact every day. The inability of science to answer every minute facet of why they work does not invalidate this data. Once again the only goal here is to plant a seed of doubt about the safety and effectiveness of vaccine in the minds of the public. As such the IAS once again demonstrates the education is not the desired outcome of their operation.

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Footnotes:
1. Cell lines

http://www.viromed.com/services/product/wi38.htmhttp://www.viromed.com/services/product/mrc5.htm

2. Vaccine Manufacture

http://www.immunizationinfo.org/issues/vaccine-components/human-fetal-links-some-vaccines

3. Vaccine Purification:

http://www.cuno.com/healthcare/pdfs/application_briefs/vaccine_production.pdf

4. Vaccine requirements(Section III, sub section B.5. paragraph 2):

http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/Guidances/Vaccines/ucm074801.htm

5. CDC Vaccine ingredients page:

http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/SafetyAvailability/VaccineSafety/ucm187810.htm

6. Aluminium track record:

http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20040129/aluminum-in-vaccines-poses-no-harm

&

http://www.chop.edu/service/vaccine-education-center/hot-topics/aluminum.html

7. Dietary aluminium:

http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/754.htm

8. Sodium Borate MSDS:

http://www.anachemia.com/msds/english/f880%28vcr%29.pdf

9. Safety sheet for NaCl

http://msds.chem.ox.ac.uk/SO/sodium_chloride.html

10. The Text book that appears to be written about:

http://www.campusbooks.ac.nz/product/21980-HumanAnatomyandPhysiology-9780321584199

Filed under: Medicine, Psychological, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism Tagged: anti-vaccine, antivax, IAS complaint, Science, Science and Society, Vaccine, vaccine ingredients, Vaccines

IAS Complaint Part 2: Gardasil Horrors — Horrific Reasoning Darcy Cowan Oct 12

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Continuing my series of extracts from the IAS charity complaint. This one focuses on the Gardasil vaccine and the paranoia that has arisen around it. I have included a link to the article but for convenience I have reproduced here the parts that I refer to in the complaint.

Gardasil Horrors
Posted April 6, 2011

First, the very title of this entry is calculated to be sensationalist and to undermine trust in a vaccine that has so far had an exemplary safety  record1.

The post is copied from the proceedings of an FDA advisory committee and is not representative of the full content of the meeting2. The content is the submission of Roberta Boyce founder of the anti-Gardasil website  truthaboutgardasil.org. The submission contains misleading information,  misunderstandings and errors of fact as well as unsupported assertions; all aimed at undermining the vaccine.

The submission starts out by alleging that the Gardasil vaccine causes vitamin deficiencies in the girls who receive it, specifically niacin.

[Quote]
“…I presented information last September against the vaccine at a similar FDA meeting when you were considering extending the vaccine to boys and older women.  At that time I told the advisory panel that many of the Gardasil girls were showing symptoms of severe vitamin deficiencies, specifically niacin.”

This  appears to be based on the submitter’s personal experience as the medical literature does not seem to back-up such a claim3. A charitable  interpretation might assume that the medical literature has not yet caught  up with a reaction that has been observed by parents and medical  professionals. To this end the VAERS database4 was queried by myself in  an attempt to verify whether vitamin deficiency is indeed a reaction seen in ’many of the Gardasil girls’ as claimed in the submission. The VAERS database did not list niacin as a filtering criterion, in this case then all criteria that where related to vitamin deficiency or decreased vitamin levels were used.

The data for worldwide events was searched, a total of 44 events were found. Given that by now millions of doses of Gardasil have been administered5 44 events (of which 11 were considered ’non-serious’) seems minimal. Certainly far from the ’many’ quoted above. When it is factored in that the VAERS database does not show causal connections but is merely for reporting events that occur in close temporal proximity to the vaccine there is no reason to determine that these events are anything more than normal occurrences within a population.

Part of the submission references the May 2006 FDA VRBPAC report on the clinical results for the development of Gardasil as a prevention of HPV in women6.

[Quote]
“Already the May 2006 FDA VRBPAC reports that if a woman has HPV and receives Gardasil, her chances of getting cervical cancer increase by 44.6 percent after inoculation. “

The submission reference is at best a misreading of the report and at worst cherry-picks facts out of context in order to support a specific conclusion. It is alleged that women already infected with HPV strains targeted by the vaccine experience an increased risk of cancer of 44.6%. This is incorrect on two counts; first, the possible increase is in CIN 2/3. This refers to Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia, generally regarded as ’pre-cancer’7. This may appear to be hair splitting but in science precise terminology is used for a reason.

Second, the data referred to is made up of small numbers and is a sub-group of the main study population. As such, further in the report it is suggested that the observed increased risk is actually due to slight imbalances between the intervention and placebo groups. This conclusion is reached after additional information about the sub-groups and data using larger sample numbers is provided by the study authors. In conclusion, it is likely that this result is simply noise and the use of it without context amounts to cherry-picking.

The submission continues with further medical misunderstandings and eventually devolves into what appear to be paranoid theories about drug companies targeting girls with a particular genetic make-up for sterilisation using the Gardasil vaccine.

[Quote]
“My daughter recently tested sterile at age 21, although she is still getting a relatively normal period.  Could it be that Merck intentionally developed this vaccine thinking it would affect a small number of individuals with PK deficiencies?  Is this what their intent was when they developed their recently approved fertility drug Aleva, which was just passed for European use?  I wonder if Merck and other big pharmas have intentionally taken advantage of genetic deficiencies.  I believe they have, and I believe this is what has happened many, many times over.  In fact today’s presentation by Dr. Garner clearly stated that DNA extractions were performed in their tests.”

As corroborating evidence the submitter refers to a previous presentation during the committee that referred to DNA extractions, once again ignoring the context in which this was stated — clearly in reference to looking for evidence of HPV DNA in subjects, not screening the genetic profile of the subjects themselves.

Finally the submitter implies that the Gardasil vaccine is a self-manufactured curse from God for Christians because they have not adequately spread God’s word. Beliefs such as this may motivate some people but they do not constitute a valid argument when it comes to health and science. Evidence is required and the evidence provided, such as it is, is not adequate.

The appearance of this submission on the IAS website implies an endorsement of its views and that it is considered information worthy of inclusion about the safety and efficacy of the Gardasil vaccine. As it is based almost entirely on personal experience, assumptions and misunderstandings its inclusion on a website run by an organisation that ostensibly is concerned with providing accurate information to parents is completely inappropriate.

———————————————————————————————

Footnotes:
1. Gardasil Postlicenture safety Surveilence report:
http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/302/7/750.full.pdf+html

CDC Safety information:
http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/SafetyAvailability/VaccineSafety/ucm179549.htm

2. Full FDA Advisory committee Meeting muinutes:
http://www.fda.gov/AdvisoryCommittees/CommitteesMeetingMaterials/BloodVaccinesandOtherBiologics/VaccinesandRelatedBiologicalProductsAdvisoryCommittee/ucm241266.htm

3. Literature search was carried out using the PubMed database found here:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed

4. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. Data from which may be accessed here:
http://wonder.cdc.gov/vaers.html

5. Gardasil Doses
http://www.bestshot.co.nz/Gardasil%20Q-A.pdf pg11

6. FDA VRBPAC report:
http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/06/briefing/2006-4222B3.pdf

7. Information on Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia:
http://www.thehpvtest.com/about-hpv/cervical-dysplasia-faqs/

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Filed under: Medicine, Questionable Techniques, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism Tagged: anti-vaccine, antivax, FDA, gardasil, Human papillomavirus, IAS complaint, Science and Society

IAS Complaint Part 1: Thimerosal in Your Vaccine? No. Darcy Cowan Oct 11

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As promised here is the first of the articles that I deal with in the formal complaint I made to the Charities Commission regarding the misinformation spread by the anti-vaccine charity IAS.  So, with out further ado (what is ado anyway?) here is the link to the offending piece and my rebuttal:

Thimerosal in your Vaccine?
Posted September 13, 2010

This post on the IAS website (made up of basically an uninformed question about the harmfulness of ethyl mercury and a video) insinuates that Ethyl Mercury (also known under the trade name Thimerosal)1 is both harmful in the amount contained in vaccines and, by extension, that New Zealand vaccines contain this substance and should therefore be viewed with suspicion.

The first thing to note is that the Thimerosal post is irrelevant to New Zealand populations as Thimerosal is not present in any of the vaccines used in New Zealand2. Bringing up this issue in the context of New Zealand vaccines (implied as this is a New Zealand organisation geared towards New Zealand residents) is at best ignorant and at worse disingenuous scaremongering. Even so it is useful to deconstruct the post anyway as it is indicative of the faulty reasoning and scientifically inaccurate content of the IAS website.

The post includes a link to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Ethyl Mercury as support for this claim3. The relevant part of the MSDS has been reproduced below to give an indication of what the post considers concerning about the use of Thimerosal in vaccines.

Quoting from the MSDS:

’Effects of Overexposure: Topical allergic dermatitis has been reported. Thimerosal contains mercury. Mercury poisoning may occur and topical hypersensitivity reactions may be seen. Early signs of mercury poisoning in adults are nervous system effects, including narrowing of the visual field and numbness in the extremities. Exposure to mercury in utero and in children may cause mild to severe mental retardation and mild to severe motor coordination impairment.’

This is used in conjunction with a video link on the page4 to advance the hypothesis that Thimerosal in vaccines causes  autism, despite the fact that the symptoms listed are explicitly due to overexposure, not the trace exposure that  constitutes the vaccine dose. This type of ’any level is harmful’ approach to medicine neglects the dose response  relationship of drugs and other chemicals in the body. This hypothesis also ignores scientific research into
mechanisms of autism, the epidemiology of the increase in autism reports and the failure of the hypothesis to account for the continued rise of autism cases after Thimerosal was removed from the majority of vaccines.

The web-based resource Science Based Medicine has a reference page containing summaries of and links to the various studies showing no link between Thimerosal in vaccines and development of autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD)5. The studies in aggregate looked at the claim of a link between Thimerosal and autism in a number of ways. Several looked at large groups of individuals and attempted to find any sort of correlation between childhood exposure to Thimerosal and development of autism symptoms. All together these studies combed through the data of over 750,000 individuals in several different countries and found no evidence to support a link.

Continuing to disseminate information that implies a link between Thimerosal and autism is to be either wilfully ignorant of the current state of research, in which case claims to educational content are not accurate, or to be dismissive of the current research as being an inaccurate reflection of the facts. This second option depends on there being some sort of conspiracy within the scientific/medical community to hide the truth. No such conspiracy can be substantiated.
As an side, the MMR vaccine has also been linked to development of autism in the minds of anti-vaccine campaigners since Andrew Wakefield’s now discredited and retracted paper in the Lancet6. A Cochrane review of the evidence shows

’No credible evidence of an involvement of MMR with either autism or Crohn’s disease was found.’

and

’Exposure to MMR was unlikely to be associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism or aseptic meningitis…’7

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Footnotes:
1. Thimerosal clarification of chemistry:
The chemical IUPAC name of Thimerosal is actually
Ethyl(2-mercaptobenzoato-(2-)-O,S)mercurate(1-) sodium.
This breaks down to Ethyl Mercury in the body.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiomersal

2. Vaccine ingredients:
a. Childhood vaccine Schedule:
http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/indexmh/immunisation-schedule-html
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcmed.nsf/pages/wycpreve/$File/wycpreve.pdf
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcmed.nsf/pages/gwcinfih/$File/gwcinfih.pdf
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcmed.nsf/pages/gwcinfiv/$File/gwcinfiv.pdf
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcmed.nsf/pages/gwchibrx/File/gwchibrx.pdf
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcmed.nsf/pages/gwcbostv/$File/gwcbostv.pdf
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcmed.nsf/pages/cscgarda/$File/cscgarda.pdf

b. Influenza Vaccines:
http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/indexmh/influenza-a-h1n1-2010-faqsseasonal#safety
http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/Files/swineflu/$file/vaxigrip.pdf
http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/Files/swineflu/$file/Fluvax.pdf
http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/Files/swineflu/$file/Influvac.pdf

3. MSDS cited on the IAS website:
http://www.vaccine-tlc.org/docs/Thimerosal%20Material%20Safety%20Data%20Sheet.pdf

4. Misleading video posted under the heading ’Thimerosal in your Vaccine?’:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-Frdv9iR3E

5. The Science-Based Medicine resource page on Vaccines and Autism:
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/reference/?p=1

6. Andrew Wakefield:
http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2810%2960175-4/fulltext
http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.c7452.fullhttp://www.nature.com/ajg/journal/v105/n5/full/ajg2010149a.html

7. Cochrane review:
http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab004407.html

Filed under: Medicine, Questionable Techniques, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism Tagged: anti-vaccine, antivax, Autism, IAS complaint, Science, Science and Society, Thimerosal, Vaccine, vaccine ingredients, Vaccines

Anti-Vaccine Charities — Is there any Quality control on Charities? Darcy Cowan Oct 11

84 Comments

I haven’t really been writing much lately, for this blog at least. Much that is due to simple procrastination but earlier this year my free time was spent doing something equally stimulating.

Back in July I submitted a complaint to the New Zealand Charities Commission, which they (allegedly) are currently investigating, about the Immunisation Awareness Society (IAS). This is a charitable organisation that disseminates anti-vaccine information, while at the same time denying that they are anti-vaccine.

Grant has recently done an excellent post on some of the nonsense put out by IAS representatives, go have a read if you’ve not seen it yet.

My complaint focuses on the fact that to be a registered charity an organisation must fulfil a charitable purpose (makes sense). The particular legislation outlines these purposes as:

“the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, or any other matter beneficial to the community.”

In my complaint I detail how the advancement of education is not met by the IAS, that they are anti-vaccine and that they therefore do not constitute a benefit to the public. As they do not relieve poverty nor advance religion this effectively should remove them from the arena of “Charity”.

To answer the question posed in the title, theoretically – yes there is quality control over charities. Part of the mandate of the Charities Commission is to:

“promote public trust and confidence in the charitable sector”,

“monitor charitable entities and their activities to ensure that entities that are registered as charitable entities continue to be qualified for registration as charitable entities”

and

“inquire into charitable entities and into persons who have engaged in, or are engaging in, conduct that constitutes, or may constitute, a breach of this Act or serious  wrongdoing in connection with a charitable entity”

In large part my compliant is based on this previous post about the IAS, cleaned of snark and updated with a few references. In addition I dismantle a few of the “Educational” posts on their website to show how the information they promote is factually incorrect and geared towards convincing parents not to vaccinate their children.

In particular I look at This post that attempts to link NZ vaccines with Thimerosal and thereby to Autism even though both links in this chain are fictitious. Next I go over This post which is a copy of a submission to an FDA committee by Roberta Boyce founder of the anti-Gardasil website truthaboutgardasil.org, predicably criticising the Gardasil vaccine for being some sort of secret plot to make people sick and sterile. Okay maybe you couldn’t have predicted that. Finally I take apart yet more claims about the “Toxic” ingredients of vaccines, similar to another of my previous posts. Then I cover potential and actual damage caused by anti-vaccine sentiment (like the Auckland Measles outbreak).

I have no doubt that the IAS will rail against this complaint claiming that I’m trying to suppress free speech (nothing of the kind, they can continue their activities without being a charity) or that I’m attempting to smear them (no need, their output speaks for itself) or that I’m a henchman for the Immunisation Advisory Centre (no affiliation, but if they want to throw some money my way…;-)).

I’m hopeful that this complaint will at least get the Charities Commission to pay attention to the IAS and it’s output. Like I said I’m not interested in shutting them down, upholding free speech means defending those you don’t agree with (or something, I’m hazy on the details. People tell me it’s good). The issue I have is that these guys are essentially receiving a government subsidy (in the form of tax exemptions) for spouting inaccuracies.

Finally I have to give enormous thanks to Simon Clendon who kicked me into action after my post on the IAS philosophies and took on the task of editing the brain dump that resulted. He also made a bridge to the nice people at the IMAC who provided some extra info (still no affiliation just a few emails).

For those who want more on how I deal with the IAS misinformation I will repackage the various sections of the complaint as follow-up posts (tagged “IAS complaint”). Plus, I went to all that work, might as well eh?

If you want to read the full complaint in all it’s damning detail and mind numbing depth you can find it in PDF form Here, I’ve also got a snappy snip url: http://snipurl.com/iascomplaint. Go on, you know you want to. Tell your friends.

There are also a few supporting documents at that address as well, just to make finding them easier. If this inspires you to make your own complaints then go for it, the more the merrier, probably. I’m sure you needn’t go to as much trouble as I did (though if you want to, it’s fun. Plus by now the IAS has continued to march ahead with new misinformation).

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Filed under: Medicine, Psychological, Questionable Techniques, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism Tagged: anti-vaccine, antivax, Autism, Education, gardasil, Health and Medicine, HPV vaccine, IAS complaint, Science, Science and Society, Vaccine, Vaccines

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