Helen Petousis Harris

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris blogs about vaccines and vaccination. Her background is predominantly biological sciences, and she did her PhD in Vaccinology, specifically around vaccine reactions. She worked at the Immunisation Advisory Centre at the University of Auckland between 1998 and 2018 where she has developed a passion for all things vaccine. Currently Helen has an appointment as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care and her teaching is largely around vaccination. Her research focuses on a number of aspects of vaccines and vaccination but in particular vaccine effectiveness and vaccines safety. She is a member of the World Health Organisation Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS) and the Brighton Collaboration Science Board. Of course all opinions in this blog are her own. This is a science blog, dissent is welcome if justified and respectful. Trolling and personal insults are not and will be trashed. Disclosures: Helen has led a number of industry funded studies. These have all been investigator conceived and led. She does not receive honorarium from industry personally. She has received industry support to attend some conferences and has contributed to Expert Advisory meetings for GSK, Merck, and Pfizer.

Nordic Cochrane, the medical regulator and anti-vax hypocrisy - Diplomatic Immunity

Jun 23, 2016

Last month members of the Nordic Cochrane posted a letter of complaint to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on their website. Does this mean that members of the Nordic Cochrane have uncovered previously undiscovered evidence about the HPV vaccine? No! The vaccine has an excellent safety profile and as of todays date the scientific community are unanimous about that fact. But what is ironic is that anti-vaxxers, generally resolute in their ignorance of Cochrane-level evidence are, in contrast, zealous about a letter from a few members of the Cochrane’s Nordic faction, one complainant appears miffed that her case reports have not been interpreted as evidence for causality. This behaviour is called hypocrisy. The anti vaxxers have elected to ignore systematic reviews and meta-analysis under the name of the Cochrane but when a bellyaching letter of complaint by a few individuals gets sent … Read More

Cost of civil liberty and what The Australian Sex Party said - Diplomatic Immunity

Jun 03, 2016

Today is sunny and the measles outbreak is still reigning. I wonder how many tax dollars have now been spent on this little plague thus far. New Zealand has an estimated 400,000 young people susceptible to measles, mainly the 80s and 90s kids that didn’t get immunised and are still unimmunised. Schools have had to close. I whinged about the misconceptions about MMR vaccine last week  but today I want to mention civil liberty, or the state of being subject to laws established for the good of the community. There is no law that says you have to be vaccinated in NZ but surely choices should have consequences? One person’s civil liberty should not take precedence over the health and safety of others. I do think we need more open discussion about the accountability when ‘informed choice’ results in pain, suffering … Read More

NZ on the measles merry-go-round. Why? - Diplomatic Immunity

May 27, 2016

It is raining and we are having another measles outbreak because a non-immune someone went overseas, picked up the most contagious virus known to infect man and brought it back home to the Waikato. They then spread it to others who were not immune to measles (generally unvaccinated). Controlling spread of measles takes enormous public health resources, every case must be followed up along with all their contacts. Too bad if some infectious person went to a netball game, because all those people in the stadium may need to be traced and their immune status verified. On the occasion of this recent outbreak a particularly large number of zombie memes have crawled out of the grave. Perhaps Venus is in Uranus or something this month. Here are the top memes doing the rounds on social media, where a large proportion … Read More

Whimsical witchcraft not immunisation - Diplomatic Immunity

May 23, 2016

There is a measles outbreak in the Waikato and folks are presenting certificates of homeopathic prophylaxis against measles as proof of immunity, to avoid exclusion from school. It is frightening to think that the holder of the certificate below is under the impression they have protection against the listed epidemic diseases.   Certificate of immunity to infectious diseases Homeopathic products do not immunise against disease, nor do they treat it. They are no substitute for vaccines. Even the British Homeopathic Association recommends immunisation should be carried out in the usual way. The same cannot be said for the NZ Council of Homeopaths who appear blatantly antivax, evidenced by their erroneous assertions about vaccine safety, as would appear the NZ Homeopathic Society. The principals of homeopathy defy the laws of physics, chemistry, biology and common sense, yet there … Read More

Wilyman’s ‘thesis’ from a relativistic viewpoint? - Diplomatic Immunity

Jan 15, 2016

“It’s rather like a sociologist who insists that jet aircraft remain aloft only because of a conspiracy between aeronautical engineers and greedy airlines. Perhaps Wollongong already has someone working on such a thesis.” (Editorial, The Australian) The antivax rant accepted as a PhD thesis by University of Wollongong is defended by the student’s supervisor Professor Brian Martin. The statements given in this justification serve to illustrate that perhaps Martin is unaware of the facts about infectious diseases, vaccines and immunisation programmes. He argues that Wilyman has revealed four critical points about infectious diseases and immunisation. First, deaths from infectious diseases had dramatically declined in Australia before the mass introduction of most vaccines, suggesting that vaccination is not the only factor in controlling these diseases. Strawman argument. It is a well-established fact that clean water and antibiotics have … Read More

A PhD By Stealth (BS) – What are University of Wollongong thinking? - Unsorted

Jan 14, 2016

Wollongong University has accepted a Doctoral thesis so fatally flawed even an arrested Koala could spot the shortcomings. The offending work is entitled “A critical analysis of the Australian government’s rationale for its vaccination policy” and well established antivaxer Judy Wilyman was recently accepted as fulfilling the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. If you are going to blow off every major global health organisation including the WHO, every government, every medical college of experts, you should have a damn good argument. The work has been heavily criticised by Australian experts for good reason. It is almost hard to know where to start and I am just going to explore the one page abstract here. Below my musings are a number of links to further discussion about Wilyman and her ‘work’. A look at the one page abstract is enough to raise red flashing lights. Let's go there… Normally the abstract for a thesis in humanities (and any other academic discipline) needs to include a statement of purpose – like why are you doing this; your methods or approach – what you did; results – what you found and your conclusions and how they fill the gap. Wilyman does none of this in her abstract, it is just a rant. First sentence: Vaccination policies in Australia need to be scrutinised because the use of a medical intervention in the prevention of infectious disease has serious health and social implications. This is not a statement of intent or the identification of a gap in knowledge, it is a conclusion that appears to come before any observation. Who starts an abstract off with their conclusion? This is effectively a priori – you have decided what you expect independent of experience. So what evidence does she provide in support of this assertion - that vaccines have serious health and social implications? I went to the chapter about evidence underpinning claims about vaccines, a topic I am acquainted with. It starts with: The aim of this thesis is to assess the rigour of the claims supporting the efficacy, safety and necessity for the use of an expanding number of vaccines in the Australian Government’s National Immunisation Program (NIP). First there is a discussion about semantics – the importance of the terms vaccination and immunisations (seemingly this has everything to do with vaccine effectiveness). Apparently because the government use the term immunisation on their website they are misleading the public into thinking all people who get vaccinated are immune. This argument is a complete red herring in any discussion about efficacy or safety of vaccines. The general message from this chapter is that there is little evidence to support the efficacy or safety of vaccines. Her references to support these outrageous comments are from the bottom dwelling literature that includes 50-year-old discussions along with well-established, thoroughly debunked pseudoscience. At no point does she mention any of the vast scientific literature that includes large clinical and epidemiological studies - or attempt a critique of it. An example is the nonsense from Tomljenovic and Shaw which she accepts without question and serves up as proof of the dangers of HPV vaccine. Given that this is a core aim of the thesis it begs the question....Did anyone qualified in clinical trials or epidemiology and in particular, vaccinology, examine this work? Also in the first paragraph: The Australian government’s NIP, like all member countries of the World Health Organisation (WHO), is recommended by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI). What a load of bollocks! GAVI are dedicated to bringing vaccines to the poorest counties of the worlds, they have no interest in Australia and Australia do not base their immunisation programme on the needs of developing countries. The Australian NIP is the result of the recommendations of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation of the Australian Government Department of Health (aka ATAGI) who in turn are informed by the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunisation (SAGE) and science based medicine. Wilyman should have at least got that bit right given it appears to be central to her work. The experts on SAGE are completely independent from industry as are those on ATAGI and the conflict of interests statements are kept up to date on the website. Second paragraph first sentence: It is important that independent research is carried out to assess whether all the vaccines being recommended today are safe, effective and necessary for the protection of the community. Fact: Vaccines are the most rigorously researched medicines and the evidence is vast. Wilyman has chosen to ignore it. Second paragraph second sentence: It is also important to have comprehensive evidence that it is safe to combine multiple vaccines in the developing bodies of infants. Fact: Every new vaccine is tested in combination with the other vaccines it is likely to be co-administered with. Second paragraph third and fourth sentences: The framework for undone science is used to analyse the Australian government’s claim that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. Whilst the government claims serious adverse events to vaccines are rare this is not supported by adequate scientific evidence due to the shortcomings in clinical trials and long term surveillance of health outcomes of recipients. ‘‘Undone science’’ refers to areas of research bereft of funding and perhaps ignored but that social movements or civil society organisations often identify as worthy of more research. In the case of vaccine safety the science is hardly bereft of funding and most definitely not ‘undone’ it is simply that Wilyman refuses to include any of the actual evidence. This is a gross example of cherry picking among a million orchards of heavily laden trees. Getting to the end of the abstract: Her arguments with regard to HPV deny germ theory and call upon the usual antivaxer rhetoric and pseudoscience which she shamelessly cites while dismissing the global scientific data on the topic. What can I say!! Here is just one sentence: Although an analysis of the postlicensure safety surveillance data for the HPV vaccine has been performed, the analysis only included adverse event data from the US (Slade et al 2009). This is incorrect. Here is my summary of global post licensure safety data with links to the evidence but there are literally countless others. Her denial of the 2009-10 influenza pandemic is offensive and disrespectful to all those who lost family members to the disease. From what I have seen of Wilyman’s work (the term ‘thesis’ implies there was actually a theory to be proved) it is litany of deceitful reveries. How it could possibly pass as a piece of Doctoral level work is inexplicable and it has made no contribution to knowledge. Shame on you University of Wollongong. Additional links: For an example of a quality doctoral thesis in this subject area here is one that explores a similar topic under humanities by Dr Alison Day on Child immunisation: reactions and responses to New Zealand government policy 1920-1990. From ORAC From sociologist Chrys Stevenson From cell biologist Maggie On Freedom of Opinion by Alison Campbell On Wilyman's section on Smallpox by Alison Campbell Read More

HPV “vaccination syndrome” – latest investigation - Diplomatic Immunity

Nov 06, 2015

Following on from extensive hysteria and bad press in many countries, including Denmark and Japan, the Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) investigated the issue that’s been dubbed “HPV vaccination syndrome”. They have concluded that scientific evidence DOES NOT support that HPV vaccines cause complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) So what did the review committee do? They (experts in the fields) carefully studied the published data including that from the clinical trials, reports made by the public and patient groups, from health professionals and information from the European Member States. No stone unturned. Given that the safety of the vaccine has been monitored passively in over 63 million girls and women and actively studied (comparing vaccinated with unvaccinated in carefully designed studies) in over a million of these recipients … Read More

HPV vaccination syndrome. A questionnaire based ‘study’. Lack of any evidence. Pt 2. - Diplomatic Immunity

Sep 24, 2015

Continued from HPV vaccination syndrome: Surely extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Pt 1. The questionnaire based ‘study’ is even worse than the hypothesis. Following on from yesterday’s blog about “HPV vaccination syndrome” I want to address a few issues about the accompanying report “HPV vaccination syndrome. A questionnaire-based study.” First, the introductory text is identical to the accompanying article. Could they not at least paraphrase? You are not actually allowed to plagiarise yourself in the scientific literature. The second, which I did not mention in Part 1 of this topic, is that the author does not understand the difference between “Adverse Event” and “Adverse Reaction”. All reports are Adverse Events, some will be reactions to the vaccine, and others will be coincidental. This is a very fundamental misunderstanding and one that is central … Read More

HPV vaccination syndrome: Surely extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Pt 1. - Diplomatic Immunity

Sep 23, 2015

I really do think that the latest proposed “HPV vaccination syndrome” is an extraordinary claim that requires some evidence proportionate to its absurdity. Actually some evidence would be a start. However a piece in the journal Clinical Rheumatology appears to have escaped what normally passes as scientific peer review and got received, revised and accepted in less than a month to be published just a couple of weeks later. The reason I say this is that the piece is devoid of science. Let me explain. The claims in question (both here and in other articles) centre on reports of vague syndromes involving fatigue and pain manifesting in varying temporal association with administration of HPV vaccine. The bottom dwelling scientific literature is becoming littered with case reports of young women exhibiting vague symptoms with variable temporal onset to a … Read More

HPV vaccine Gardasil – seriously good data reinforce its safety - Diplomatic Immunity

Aug 29, 2015

The quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine called Gardasil is putting on a bloody good show and NO, it doesn’t cause THAT! Despite strong evidence demonstrating effectiveness against a range of cancers and genital warts and robust data supporting its safety a bunch of silly rumours threaten to derail efforts to get our young women vaccinated. By the way boys should also be vaccinated but in NZ funding has not yet been provided for all our young blokes so most have to pay for it privately, inequitable yes – but that is another story. So where does the evidence on effectiveness and safety stand in August 2015? Gardasil is a very effective vaccine As we know Gardasil performed extremely well in clinical trials, effectively preventing pre-invasive cervical lesions, and the results suggested it would have a dramatic effect on cervical … Read More