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 an associate professor 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 vaccine safety. She was previously the chair of the World Health Organization Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS). Of course all opinions in this blog are her own. 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. Helen is a member of the Covid vaccine Science and Technical Advisory Group to MBIE and the MoH and the Covid Immunisation Implementation Advisory groups to the MoH.

The brouhaha around placebo choice in vaccine trials - Diplomatic Immunity

Feb 21, 2018

There exists a sustained brouhaha around the nature of the placebos used in the clinical trials for Gardasil. The notion that some of the most rigorous vaccine trials ever conducted are questionable on account of their well thought out placebos is ill conceived at best. This is after over 270 million doses and huge epidemiological studies from all over the world comparing outcomes in vaccinated and unvaccinated (discussed ad nausea in my previous blogs). Guess what! Vaccinated have better outcomes than unvaccinated. Anyway, for the sake of anyone who is wondering about what all the placebo ruckus is about I have attempted to explain below. What is a placebo? A clinical placebo is a treatment that has no intended therapeutic effect. In a clinical trial a placebo could be a saline formulation which is typically inert when injected.  Or, the … Read More

Proving HPV vaccines really prevent cancer - Diplomatic Immunity

Feb 19, 2018

In the clinical trials for HPV vaccines cervical cancer was not a primary endpoint. An endpoint in a clinical trial is a disease or a symptom of interest. I want to explain why cancer was not an endpoint these efficacy studies. Instead surrogate endpoints were used. Why not, given that is what the investigators wanted to prevent? Because you can’t not treat a woman with cervical abnormalities to see if her lesions develop into cancer. That was tried once between 1955 and 1976, didn’t go down well and it led to a fairly monumental change in ethical research practices. For a detailed academic account of the ‘experiment’ check out A History of the Unfortunate Experiment by Medical Historian Lynda Bryder. The point here is that you cannot monitor a person for cancer then not treat it at the … Read More

Media, Dr Google, and the adverse events you were looking for - Diplomatic Immunity

Nov 13, 2017

The perception of risk is greatly influenced by the media and related to the relationship between hazard and outrage, or Risk = Hazard + Outrage (Sanderman). Basically, the risks that can kill you are often not the risks that get you all alarmed. I am a bit scared of things with at least six legs but genes dictate it will probably be good old cardiovascular disease that carries me off even though my amygdala does not grasp this. When the media do a story about adverse events, people can experience fear disproportionate to the actual hazard. An extremely rare or an almost non-existent speck of a risk morphs into an elephant. Another observation is that the reporting rate of adverse events to the authorities goes up. This phenomena is also observed when new vaccines are introduced. Does this reporting reflect … Read More

Who is Levi Quackenboss and what is she saying about vaccine debates? - Diplomatic Immunity

Nov 02, 2017

Quackenboss is a vaccine denier with a history of internet bullying and going loopy when someone says something positive about vaccines. She hides nameless and faceless behind a blog, or captured in a state of self-glorification during an interview with HealthNut News. I know not her name, qualifications, or profession because they do not appear to be provided but she has plenty to say about vaccines. A recent fairly high profile example of Quackenbosses’s modus operandi is the doxxing and attacks on a remarkable 12-year old lad from Mexico who posted a video about vaccines and autism on you tube that went viral. It is one thing to pick on a grown up but to bully a child is truly miserable. For an enlightening discussion on that episode ORAC has summarised nicely. Just wow! Sourced from Epidemiological Life and Epidemics. https://epidemiological.net/2016/06/05/the-fear-a-12-year-old-mexican-can-raise/ … Read More

Aluminium adjuvants, immune dysfunction, and the AV syndrome scammers - Diplomatic Immunity

Sep 15, 2017

Vaccine scammers I call them. They prey on people with a sick kid. Perhaps they want to flog dietary supplements or bleach enemas but today I refer to the proponents of a variety of fake syndromes, which they claim have been induced by vaccines and/or vaccine adjuvants*. The most infamous vaccine scammer in this case is Andrew Wakefield, but this is not about him. In Confessions of a Confidence Man (pub 1923) Edward H Smith laid out six steps in the confidence (aka con) game. I thought it would be fun to use these six steps to explore the history of “Autoimmune/Autoinflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants (ASIA)” which is a sort of catch all for nebulous chronic illnesses that include fatigue. Of course behind any scam are the con men and women. The idea of newly discovered syndromes seems to be … Read More

Mumps outbreak – add fire and watch it burn - Diplomatic Immunity

Sep 06, 2017

The inevitable mumps outbreak is upon us. Inescapable because we have a significant proportion of the community who are not immune, dry tinder to a flame. NZ has high immunisation coverage right? So why has this happened? Here is the story. Back in the early 1990’s NZ had a terrible measles epidemic and seven people died. Waking up to the fact that there could be a problem a study was conducted to see what proportion of children had received all their vaccines. The results were a national embarrassment. Overall less than 60% of NZ infants had received all their vaccines by the age of two years. For Maori and Pacific kids this was 42% and 45% respectively. The problem went even deeper than that with some communities, such as Glen Innes in Auckland, having rates below 20%. Read More

In defence of the tamariki - Diplomatic Immunity

May 24, 2017

Dr Lance O’Sullivan I salute you. Kaitaia is a town in the far north of NZ, warm people, lovely beaches. Sadly immunisation coverage is low, infectious disease rates are high. Doctors like Lance O’Sullivan work their guts out to improve the health of the people they serve, including treating kids for illnesses that they should never have to suffer. The community need screenings of the manipulative pro-disease film Vaxxed like a kick in the guts. At the local screening Dr O’Sullivan got up and defended his community against the anti-vaccination lobby with an open, honest message. You can watch it on TVNZ: Dr Lance O’Sullivan stuns guests at anti-vax doco by leaping on stage to explain why their message is a killer. The film in question has as much scientific fact in it as a B-grade zombie film yet is … Read More

How vaccines are controlled and by whom - Diplomatic Immunity

May 05, 2017

A couple of people asked me the same questions yesterday. How do vaccines end up on a schedule, how are they regulated, and by whom? Reckon those are great questions, some answers ensue. How does a vaccine end up on the schedule? This is based on need, or other words the burden of a disease. It could be rare but highly fatal and leave horrific disabilities in survivors, like meningococcal disease. Or perhaps common and less serious in most people, but because so many people get it there are many deaths and hospitalisations, like measles.  If there is a safe and effective vaccine available and the country can afford it (the cost/benefit numbers work) then there is a good chance it will end up on the schedule. So, basically adding a vaccine to a schedule is based on … Read More

WHO VigiBase study does not find HPV vaccine unsafe. - Diplomatic Immunity

Mar 03, 2017

A new study used the World health Organization’s global database of reports of adverse events associated with the use of a medicine (VigiBase), including vaccines, to look at reporting patterns after HPV vaccine. The cases in VigiBase are collected for 125 member states, including NZ, who participate in the WHOs International Drug Monitoring Programme. The data from all the member states are pooled together. The pooled database is extensive (it is really bigly 14.468 million reports as of yesterday, although the paper mentions that in 2010 it was 10.3 million. The ‘cases’ in the database are reports of events that have occurred either in association with, or following, the use or administration of a medicine. These cases may or may not have been caused by the medicine. What did this study do? The authors wanted to test a novel computer algorithm … Read More

Was the Gardasil vaccine ever compared with a placebo? - Diplomatic Immunity

Feb 20, 2017

Gardasil was assessed in Double Blind Randomised Placebo Controlled Trials that used the fully formulated vaccine and compared it with two different placebos, the aluminium adjuvant and a saline solution.  What is a placebo? A placebo is a substance as similar as possible to the active drug except it has no therapeutic effect. It does not need to be ‘inert’. The best placebo is one that mimics the active therapy as much as possible. This is because the ‘placebo effect’ is a powerful phenomenon and to truly measure the effect of an active product it important that all recipients are equally as likely to think they received the “real deal’. What is an adjuvant? “Adjuvant” is derived from the Latin “adjuvare” which means to help. Adjuvants are added to vaccines in order to help the … Read More