No reason to not vaccinate but anti-vaxxers continue to resist sound health policy

On April 17th last year Paul Offit was interviewed by Christiane Amanpour of CNN on the fact that there is “no legitimate reason” for not vaccinating.

This video very recently accompanied a February 21st article by U.S. pediatrician Dr. Edith Brancho-Sanchez, entitled Several vaccines at once might be too much for parents, but kids are just fine. The article reinforced the fact that the misinformation regarding the safety and efficacy of vaccines causes variations of anxiety in parents who take their children to be vaccinated.

It was reported that a 2014 USA National Immunization Surveillance Survey indicated that;

… over a third of parents of children ages 19 to 35 months followed delayed immunization schedules. Of the parents surveyed, 23% followed an alternate schedule that either limited the number of shots per visit or skipped at least one vaccine series altogether. Another 14% followed an unknown or unclassifiable schedule that did not follow a pattern and was not in line with national recommendations. Children who followed an alternate pattern were four times as likely not to be up to date on their vaccines and those who followed an unclassifiable pattern were over twice as likely not to be up to date.

Regrettably pediatricians are in a Catch 22 situation. They need to build parental trust. A 2015 study published in Pediatrics indicated that 93% of 534 pediatricians had been asked by parents of children under 2 to spread out vaccines. 82% believed complying with the parent’s request would build trust, whilst 80% thought if they declined, this may lead to parents leaving their practice.

In Connecticut, USA state lawmakers “narrowly advanced a bill” this week that seeks to ban religious vaccine exemptions for children. Despite reports of a 25% increase in religious exemptions from last year anti-vaccine opposition to the bill was fierce including protests in Connecticut’s Legislative Office Building. One Democrat representative, who seemed to have abandoned any pretense of basing his decision on evidence, referred to vaccination as “injecting a witches brew of chemicals”.

Here in Australia the leading anti-vaccine disinformation group The Australian Vaccination-risks Network has called on members and fellow anti-vaxxers to heed another infamous Action Alert. They are targetting Victoria and South Australia. In Victoria the Health Services Amendment Bill 2020 seeks to provide for mandatory vaccination of healthcare and ambulance workers with specific immunisations. Ten days ago the Victorian Minister for Health published this media release outlining the logic behind the decision.

The vaccines included are the flu vaccine, whooping cough, measles, chicken pox and hepatitis B. It is astonishing, as we witness the evolving impact of COVID-19 in the absence of a vaccine, that groups such as the AVN seek to multiply these negative effects. They have teamed up with the anti-science, anti-medicine group, Health Freedom Victoria helping to disseminate their “generic letter” for anti-vaxxers to mail to “all Victorian politicians including your local member”. Of course one may pen ones own. Be sure to stress you “vehemently oppose this draconian overreach of the Andrews’ government”.

They also advise to follow up with phone calls. Following that, they basically suggest harassing Martin Foley who is Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Equality and Minister for Creative Industries. Martin Foley’s mental health portfolio sees him quite active in reducing discrimination for Victorians living with mental health challenges. Health Freedom Victoria want anti-vaxxers working in the health sector to email and call Mr. Foley to;

Tell him you are appalled that he would change the Discrimination Act to get away with forcing you to take an untested and unwanted medical procedure in order to keep your job

In the material they have disseminated to encourage targetting Martin Foley, Health Freedom Victoria refer to him as, “the Minister for amongst other things, Mental Health and Discrimination”.

South Australia introduced No Jab No Play legislation on September 30th 2019. Again there is a “generic letter” ready to go. In both cases the AVN seek to motivate loyal anti-vaccine followers to engage in pestering letter and/or email writing campaigns, asking those involved to follow up with a phone call, in this case “within half an hour but at least by the end of the day”. This is to confirm they have received your email and will be sending a Decision Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS). Of course one should inform the person you’ll call back in two weeks to chase up that RIS. And why?

In the words of the AVN themselves;

Phone calls increase their workload, so they’re more likely to do their job to avoid getting repeat calls.

Yep, you read that right. Wasting the time of your local members already busy and hard working staff is ensuring they “do their job”.

Now, it’s over to Paul Offit…

 

Black Salve – The Pro-Necrotic Agent

Last April Questions for Pseudoscience published an informative video on the very nasty, dangerous, bogus skin cancer “treatment” known generally as Black Salve.

Main points might be summed up as;

  • It isn’t anti-tumour cream.
  • It is anti-skin cream.
  • It kills tissue via the caustic salt zinc chloride (listed by the FDA as a fake skin cancer treatment) and sanguinarine (a toxic alkaloid).
  • The combination of zinc chloride and sanguinarine is “incredibly lethal to living tissue”.
  • Apart from burning skin due to its caustic nature zinc chloride adversely effects other body organs and systems (eyes, G.I. tract, lungs).
  • Sanguinarine blocks sodium potassium pumps located in the cell membrane, killing cells.
  • The ridiculous myth peddled by proponents of Black Salve is that cell death can be controlled by removing the salve at just the right time so that only cancer cells are effected.
  • However once begun the process continues leading to widespread necrosis. As cells die, enzymes are released leading to the breakdown of neighbouring cell membranes.
  • A domino effect follows leading to widespread cell death.
  • Thus Black Salve is really a Pro-Necrotic Agent and will kill any tissue it comes into contact with.

In March 2012 we visited the issue of AVN selling the One Answer To Cancer DVD – a blatantly bogus promotion of Black Salve. The post included the banning of this dangerous product by Australia’s TGA, (Therapeutic Goods Administration).

The TGA at that time issued a warning on Black Salve, which was covered by the ABC’s The World Today.

  • Listen to the audio in the player below;

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Australians deserve no-nonsense regulation of chiropractors

Andrew Arnold, the Melbourne based chiropractor whose manipulation of the spine of a two week old infant was described as “deeply disturbing” by the Victorian health minister is presently refraining from treating anyone under 12 years of age.

The ABC reported just over a week ago that health minister Jenny Mikakos also said in part;

It’s appalling that young children and infants are being exposed to potential harm. That’s why I’ve written to the Chiropractic Board of Australia and AHPRA (the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) to urge them to take the necessary action. There is nothing at the moment that prevents chiropractors from undertaking these risky practices… The advice that I’ve received is that the risk of undertaking spinal manipulation on small infants far outweighs any perceived benefit.

It’s worth noting that chiropractic treatment in general and the manipulation of infants specifically has a history of drawing harsh criticism from health and medical professionals and penalties from regulators. Fairfax reported in December 2011, Doctors take aim at chiropractors. One wonders at the lack of a cogent response to such serious statements from reputable professionals.

The inclusion of a chiropractic course at Central Queensland University prompted 34 scientists, professors and doctors to note federal government funding “gave their ‘pseudoscience’ credibility”. Fairfax reported that their statement included;

…it was also disturbing that some chiropractors spruiked the adjustment of children’s spines for many potentially serious conditions including fever, colic, allergies, asthma, hearing loss and learning disorders.

…the doctors said they were also concerned about chiropractors being the largest ”professional” group in the anti-vaccination network. [Now named The Australian Vaccination Risks Network]

At the time Australian Chiropractors Association president Lawrence Tassell responded by saying the criticism was ridiculous and misinformed. He further contended chiropractic was “evidence-based, including its use on children for the treatment of conditions such as colic.”

Note: The Australian Chiropractors Association was originally The Chiropractic Association of Australia (CAA). [Wikipedia]

Just colic? Was this an admission that fever, asthma, hearing loss, all allergies and all learning disorders did not benefit from chiropractic despite promotional claims that they did? Even so the question of evidence supporting chiropractic for the treatment of colic (crying) was not as Tassell suggested. Months later a Cochrane review consulted research into that very issue.

Conclusions note;

The studies included in this meta-analysis were generally small and methodologically prone to bias, which makes it impossible to arrive at a definitive conclusion about the effectiveness of manipulative therapies for infantile colic.

…most studies had a high risk of performance bias due to the fact that the assessors (parents) were not blind to who had received the intervention. When combining only those trials with a low risk of such performance bias, the results did not reach statistical significance.

This brings to mind criticism of anti-scientific training and ideological dogma favoured by what John Reggars calls fundamentalists. Reggars is past president of the Chiropractors Registration Board of Victoria and past vice president of the Chiropractic and Osteopathic College of Australasia.

In May 2011 Chiropractic and Manual Therapies published Reggars’ wonderfully honest and revealing article, Chiropractic at the crossroads or are we just going around in circles? Reggars is a firm proponent of evidence based therapy. As such he criticises the vertebral subluxation complex and B.J. Palmer’s notion of “dis-ease”. Consider this gem of a paragraph;

The irony of this fervent belief in the VSC and chiropractic philosophy is that its development was not founded on vitalistic theory but rather as a legal strategy, conjured up by an attorney, in the defence of a chiropractor charged with practicing medicine [7, 32, 33]: “Many in chiropractic never learned the origin of the pseudo-religion or chiropractic philosophy. It was nothing more than a legal tactic used in the Morriubo’s case.”[34], and “B.J. Palmer probably developed his disease theory as a result of the winning strategy used by his attorney Thomas Morris to defend Japanese chiropractor Shegatoro Morijubo in Wisconsin in 1907″[35].

– Author’s citations in place.

Reggars also concluded that the Chiropractic Association of Australia (CAA) abandoned science for fundamentalist ideologies. He observed that their “all-encompassing alternative system of healthcare is both misguided and irrational”.

Readers are handed the reality of what chiropractors genuinely offer;

Chiropractic trade publications and so-called educational seminar promotion material often abound with advertisements of how practitioners can effectively sell the VSC to an ignorant public. Phrases such as “double your income”, “attract new patients” and “keep your patients longer in care”, are common enticements for chiropractors to attend technique and practice management seminars.

Selling such concepts as lifetime chiropractic care, the use contracts of care, the misuse of diagnostic equipment such as thermography and surface electromyography and the x-raying of every new patient, all contribute to our poor reputation, public distrust and official complaints. […]

And;
For the true believer, the naive practitioner or undergraduate chiropractic student who accepts in good faith the propaganda and pseudoscience peddled by the VSC teachers, mentors and professional organisations, the result is the same, a sense of belonging and an unshakable and unwavering faith in their ideology.

Back in June 2016 Ian Rossborough published a similar video which also drew strong condemnation. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) responded by banning him from manipulating the spines of children under six.

It is difficult to watch Andrew Arnold “manipulate” an infant. Yes a baby is distressed and crying. But it’s the manipulation of the parents I also find appalling.

Grabbing the infant’s feet he announces “I’m locking in here”. Really? He lifts the baby offering verbal distractions. “I’m just gunna go upside down for a second… yep and as we go back down just hold his head… Perfect!” Then comes the stick-that-goes-click. Or as chiropractors call it, the Activator. A spring loaded device which delivers an “impulse”. He demonstrates the lowest setting and releases it into what seems to be the right side of the infants cervical spine. Another still image (below) shows Arnold apparently applying the activator to the infants upper cervical spine at the base of the skull.

The application of the activator as seen in the video hurts or distresses the infant immediately and he begins to cry. “…and he’s going to squawk a bit”, Arnold offers as if he planned and expected this all along. Then, he does it again! And guess what? More crying. “Sorry mate” he offers for the parent’s sake. He checks the collar bones “…cause they get a bit crunched up inside”. He checks potential for collar bone crunching by moving the infants hand. “So with this, start to get in the habit of getting a grip here”, and the video finishes with what appears to be reference to the Palmer grasp aka Darwinian reflex.

This reflex in which babies grip fingers develops around three months of age. I do hope Andrew Arnold informed the parents of this. Then again, I hope someone informed Andrew Arnold of this.

There’s little doubt we’re slow to not merely evaluate most chiropractic therapy and indeed most chiropractors as offering nothing more than pseudoscience. That so people many in developed nations believe their demonstrably preposterous claims about treatment is quite surprising. With the amount of pseudoscience and junk medicine accessible online it is little wonder parents will fall for chiropractic claims about treating infants.

Chiropractic clients should be informed that mild to moderate adverse effects are frequently associated with manipulation of the upper spine in adults. Dissection of the vertebral artery and stroke may also occur. [Source]. It’s difficult to imagine more than a very few parents would be comfortable having infants, babies and young children treated if aware of this situation.

A 2008 study found there was very little supporting evidence for the claims chiropractors made regarding pediatric treatment. A 2007 systematic review found that serious adverse effects may be associated with pediatric spinal manipulation. However observation data could not support conclusions on incidence or causation.

It remains firmly demonstrable that evidence to sustain even a fraction of claims made by chiropractors as to how effective pediatric treatment is remains absent. The fact chiropractors themselves have not pursued large scale randomised controlled trials with a vigor akin to that with which they claim an ability to heal is concerning.

I have no doubt there are chiropractors who do strive to follow an evidence based approach to treatment. Yet with some influential chiropractors labelling this approach as out of date in favour of the approach of D.D. Palmer’s 19th century vitalism, they face a struggle to be heard.

As John Reggars noted since the adoption of the fundamentalist approach and application of the vertebral subluxation complex (VSC), chiropractic in Australia has taken a backward step. Chiropractors have abandoned a “scientific and evidence based approach to practice for one founded on ideological dogma”.

Australians are entitled to be protected from expensive, dangerous pseudoscience in the health industry. At present we are faced with regulators who need to develop some rather sharp teeth and make a meal of chiropractic pseudoscience.

 

♣ (4/3/19) NB: Colic may refer to severe abdominal pain caused by an intestinal blockage or gas. Infants are prone to the condition, responding with constant crying. In fact crying is the means by which “colicky” babies are diagnosed. Paediatricians may use the “rule of threes” in diagnosis, particularly items 2-4.

  1. Crying begins at around 3 weeks of age.
  2. Crying for more than 3 hours.
  3. Crying on more than 3 days per week.
  4. Crying this way for more than 3 weeks.

Because crying is what determines infantile colic there is ample disagreement as to the role of intestinal pain or even if colic itself is a myth. Other criticisms involve the convenient use of colic as a diagnosis for excessive crying.

Reading;

Debunking Anti-Vaxxers

Just over a couple of months ago the video Debunking Anti-Vaxxers was published by Toronto based AsapSCIENCE.

There’s a lot of very helpful information packed into less than seven and a half minutes, and it’s particularly worth visiting the YouTube page for a very comprehensive list of “further reading references”.

You can follow @mitchellmoffitt and @Whalewatchmeplz on Twitter and on Instagram here and here, respectively. There are also links to AsapSCIENCE on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

 

I was also interested to come across Bill and Melinda Gates’ 2018 Annual Letter. It’s entitled The 10 Toughest Questions We Get. The questions are answered with graphs, videos and margin notes.

They are;

  1. Why don’t you give more in the United States?
  2. What do you have to show for the billions you’ve spent on U.S. education?
  3. Why don’t you give money to fight climate change?
  4. Are you imposing your values on other cultures?
  5. Does saving kids’ lives lead to overpopulation?
  6. How are President Trump’s policies affecting your foundation’s work?
  7. Why do you work with corporations?
  8. Is it fair that you have so much influence?
  9. What happens when the two of you disagree?
  10. Why are you really giving your money away—what’s in it for you?

Seven Ways to Identify Pseudoscience

Original seven ways – © Relatively Interesting

  • The use of psychobabble – words that sound scientific and professional but are used incorrectly, or in a misleading manner;

Self-help books, folk and pop psychology, and motivational seminars often use psychobabble.  Deepak Chopra is a name that comes to mind at present. Nothing more than a fraud according to Professor Jerry Coyne, one may delight in the Wisdom of Chopra which is a Twitter stream made up of seeming quotes that are randomly generated by words that can be found in his genuine Twitter stream. If anybody breathes prescient life into the words of the late Carl Sagan it is the scoundrel and intellectual mobster Deepak Chopra.

Sagan proffered;

I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive.

  • A substantial reliance on anecdotal evidence;

Without a doubt the alternatives to medicine behemoth would be lost without dramatic tales of self-limiting illnesses merely running their course, or completely false or hugely exaggerated stories of serious, disabling or terminal disease executing an about face due to the power of some wonderful concoction. The frustrating hurdle here for those who promote reason is that almost all work undertaken to convince the patient occurs in their own mind. Scam artists from peddlers of herbs to chiropractors, Baptist religions and indeed even the Catholic Church are swift to take credit if they have been involved.

  • Extraordinary claims in the absence of extraordinary evidence;

From 9/11 being an inside job to images of the apparent exhumation of giant skeletons to alien autopsy videos and shaky vision of UFOs drifting across a grainy background it seems all these and other extraordinary claims have one thing in common. A powerful need to believe in their truth by those that ensure certain – in fact sometimes many – conspiracy theories indeed exist. Now thanks to Netflix we can wander through a range of delightful titles that offer everything from reasonable special effects to WW2 era reports and “experts” convinced our governments expect us to believe the laws of physics have been broken.

  • Claims which cannot be proven false;

Insisting oneself or perhaps a number of people in the world have communicated telepathically at infrequent and random intervals with aliens from a distant star is impossible to disprove on face value. The claimant can continue to insist he/she is unaware of who the other telepathic human recipients are, or when he/she will receive or has received a communication. The communication may be quite benign such as, “Happy Birthday Deepak”.

Ideally the burden of proof should be placed on the party making the claim.

  • Claims that counter established scientific fact;

Often going hand in hand with claims that rely on anecdotal evidence are those that defy scientific fact. Homeopathy stands atop the podium in this regard. Not only is it absolutely certain to not work but its adherents may insist on relaying impossible tales – often knowing they are outright lies – to besmear evidence based medicine and promote junk, bogus cures. For example pertussis (or Whooping Cough) is sometimes referred to as “the 100 day cough”. Prominent Australian antivaccinationist Meryl Dorey claimed on national TV both her vaccinated and unvaccinated children “got it”. She treated it homeopathically and “none of us were sick for more than two weeks and it was nothing worse than a bad cough”.

Countering established fact may be said of an enormous number of claims made about pseudoscientific “cures” for many ailments. Some treat energy meridians or “chakras” that don’t actually exist. These involve peddling herbs, acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, osteopathy, chanting, cupping, aligning activities with moon cycles, astrology and more.

Without a doubt denial of anthropogenic climate change should be mentioned here and we might again reflect upon to Carl Sagan’s worrying prediction.

  • Absence of adequate peer review;

In 2015 antivaccinationist and science fraud Judy Wilyman, under the auspicies of antivaccinationist and conspiracy sympathiser Dr. Brian Martin, finished her PhD at the University of Wollongong. The controversy surrounding inadequate peer review between 2012 to 2016 and indeed until today is a function of the copious inaccuracies in her thesis. Entitled “A critical analysis of the Australian Government’s rationale for its vaccination policy”, it was an immature an inaccurate antivaccination conspiracy rant. The fact that it was accepted, and indeed accepted with its discredited bibliography, indicates a clear absence of adequate peer review.

Tragically this eventuality has emboldened Wilyman to demand respect from academics and to level outrageous personal claims at her critics, rather than attempt to publish respectable material.

  • Claims that are repeated despite being refuted;

Whilst a great deal of the above intellectual repugnance deserves a slice of this pie, the authors at Relatively Interesting have populated it with the anti-vaccination obsession with the globally damaging claim that vaccines cause autism. Originally at a 1998 media conference designed to reassure parents, head author of the now rejected paper Andrew Wakefield proffered the baseless claim that rather than use the MMR trivalent vaccine, parents should consider choosing single shot vaccines. The “vaccines cause autism” claim has not only been shown to be false and cannot be replicated, but it is now well established that Wakefield acted with the sole aim of making tens and probably hundreds of millions of pounds via his plan to establish immuno-analysis laboratories for the new condition he was calling autistic enterocolitis. He also held patents for single shot measles, mumps and rubella vaccines.

A five member General Medical Council panel found Wakefield guilty of over 30 charges including 12 of causing children to endure “clinically unjustified” invasive testing procedures, buying blood at children’s birthday parties and managing four counts of dishonesty. Then, his “continued lack of insight” into his conduct, and consequences thereof, meant that only “total erasure” from the medical register was warranted. Today on the back of countless refutations of Wakefields claims he now pushes the fraudumentary Vaxxed full of false information and complete with the tampered audio of phone conversations.

 

Regrettably today more than in recent years we can benefit from keeping an eye out for these seven markers of pseudo-science.