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.

Immunisation coverage – can we fix it? Yes we can! Yes we did! - Diplomatic Immunity

Nov 14, 2013

I think a celebration is about due. Today the Minister of Health has announced that NZ has had an unprecedented increase in the uptake of immunisation in its children.  Not only that, we have closed the traditional longstanding   inequity gaps in delivering immunisation in our children – now two year old Maori, Pacific and European children and children from poverty all have very similar coverage rates. WaaaHooo!!!!  This is bloody amazing and we should feel really proud. Most health care services have equity gaps and we have shown in immunisation that these are not inevitable but can be overcome. New Zealand has spent many decades languishing at the bottom of the OECD table when it comes to getting their kids vaccinated. Quite frankly it has been a national shame for years. Until the last twelve years or … Read More

Stephanie Messenger – messages of misinformation - Diplomatic Immunity

Oct 17, 2013

Apparently one of Australia’s anti-vaccination lobbyists is visiting NZ and doing tours around some of the local hotspots of like-minded people. This includes areas with pockets of the lowest immunisation rates in the country. For those who are not familiar with Stephanie’s work, she co-authored a book with Meryl Dory (Of the Australian Vaccine Network fame) where they expose the ‘hidden truth’ about vaccines. Pretty routine pseudoscience stuff but not so Stephanie’s children’s books which are a whole new kind of sick. Her stories for children promote diseases such as measles as friendly and fun.  Of course this book has been widely criticised and there is no shortage of those critiques on the web. Perhaps what makes this book even more revolting is that it is also suspiciously alike in title to “George’s Marvellous Medicine” by Roald Dahl … Read More

Holistic Doula and the measles model - Diplomatic Immunity

Aug 29, 2013

For those like me who didn’t already know, a Doula is someone supports a woman and her family during pregnancy, childbirth and beyond. It is not medical role but rather provides emotional and practical support. Now someone called the Holistic Doula has developed her own model to show how natural exposure to an infection leads to immunity in the community – herd immunity. Apparently the image is doing the rounds.  Unfortunately it is not really a very good reflection of reality. Let me count the ways: As per holistic doulas model, if this were measles and no one was immune and everyone was 5-9 years old and these 5-9 year olds all lived together without any adults, and none of them moved in or out of the bubble, for the rest of their lives, then hula the doulas model sort … Read More

Dr Kelly Brogan and the case of the misplaced science - Diplomatic Immunity

Aug 20, 2013

Cornell and MIT educated Dr Kelly Brogan appears to subscribe to a range of standard anti-vaccination pseudoscience propaganda which is particularly disappointing considering the education she claims to have. This month The Healthy Home Economist published an article by Dr Kelly Brogan on Gardasil  who has recently produced a number of articles on vaccination in on-line forums. Says Kelly in her recent article on Gardasil: One Size Fits All? This is, perhaps the most important concept to wrestle with when it comes to providing and mandating pharmaceutical products in otherwise healthy populations. These products are based on a now largely antiquated notion of exposure to virus = infection and, as a corollary, that antibody production = protection. Now we know that neither of those premises are true. The paragraph above contains logical and factual fallacies. First, pharmaceuticals … Read More

Wakefield has not been vindicated and the courts do not think MMR causes autism - Diplomatic Immunity

Aug 07, 2013

Bit of a buzz on anti-vaccination websites about apparent court rulings in favour of MMR/autism cases. An example is  from a website called “why don’t you try this?” which cites as a source Whiteout Press (“if its blacked out, covered up of censored you can find it here”)  which in turn cites The Liberty Beacon which for its part cites Health Impact News Daily , that cite a press release from Autism Media Channel  at which point the trail goes cold because there do not appear to be any press releases on that website, although an article by anti-vaccination author David Kirby in the Huffington Post  seems a likely source for some of this baloney. Anyway, back to the issues circulating in the apparent absence of any credible sources. Read More

Breast milk is not a substitute for vaccination. - Diplomatic Immunity

Jul 02, 2013

It is not uncommon to find folks promoting breastfeeding as a way to boost their children’s immune systems as an alternative rather than an adjunct to vaccination. On the West Coast, this philosophy is hindering the regions efforts in achieving high enough vaccine coverage to prevent disease as noted in the Herald this week. When it comes to prevention of infectious diseases breastfeeding is certainly not a universal elixir. It is well accepted that infants receive specific immunity in the form of antibodies from their mother through the placenta before birth and in breast milk if they are being breast fed against a range of infections. These antibodies are temporary and wane within weeks to months. Whether a baby receives any antibodies against a particular disease and whether these antibodies are actually protective are dependent on a range of … Read More

Water Fluoridation – the emotional tail wags the dog in Hamilton - Diplomatic Immunity

Jun 05, 2013

It is a very sad day for evidence based public health in Hamilton today.  Council have voted to remove fluoride from the town’s water supply, 8/13 councillors voted on the matter and 7 voted to remove the fluoride.  It is also striking that councillors who served on the district health board and likely knowledgeable on the issue were directed to abstain due to a conflict of interest. In viewing the Council Agenda is sickening to see promoted advantages/benefits lined up against promoted disadvantages with no regard as to the weight of evidence. This is no way to make decisions affecting the health of the community, especially the most vulnerable. There is a jolly good reason that fluoride is added to many water supplies worldwide. It is because these water supplies have levels of the mineral below that which optimises oral … Read More

More pseudo-scientific garbage from Tomljenovic and Shaw - Diplomatic Immunity

May 02, 2013

Persistent misuse of passively reported data – rat bags will always be rat bags but in the peer review and editorial process there is no excuse. The Annals of Medicine are the latest (vaguely respectable but not to be confused with The Annals of Internal Medicine) journal to publish the mischievous works of Lucija Tomljenovic and Christopher Shaw. Yet again the core tenet of the article depends on the misuse of passively reported pharmacovigilance data. Passive safety surveillance One of the crude but effective tools of vaccine safety monitoring, versions of which are present in most countries in the world, are passive reporting systems. The general rule of thumb is that if an event occurs after getting a vaccine and it is considered adverse then it should be reported. Most countries welcome reports from both the public and health professionals, faxed, posted, emailed of or … Read More

End of the line for genital warts is close - Diplomatic Immunity

Apr 26, 2013

This week is World Immunisation Awareness week so it is obligatory to mention NZ have now achieved pretty good immunisation coverage of its infants and the gap between ethnic groups and rich and poor is all but shut. The good In December 2012 NZ European and Maori had 90%, Pacific 93% and Asian 95%. The gap between rich and poor is almost non-existent (2 percentage points). More importantly, for a short time last year we appeared to be ahead of Australia who have been pretty smug about their excellent performance in this area. In the BMJ this week  appears the latest Australian data on the impact of the HPV programme on genital warts. The progress is quite astounding and I admit to particular excitement over figures 1 and 2, Which are very pretty indeed. The study reports: The … Read More