Busting Vaccine Myths

Over on Stories from the trauma bay DocBastard has collated and canned seventy three falsehoods used by the anti-vaccination movement to aid their spread of vaccine misinformation.

Whether it’s vaccinated vs unvaccinated, too many too soon, deceptive reliance on VAERS data, toxins, herd immunity, aborted fetal cells, package inserts, Bill Gates, the renaming of Polio, Mr. Wakefield, heavy metals and/or many, many other anti-vax lies you’re interested in it may well be there.

He has included a frightfully helpful table of topics anchor linked to the relative paragraph. You can also follow @DocBastard on twitter.

Ooooooh boy. I have no idea what kind of rabbit hole I’m entering here, and this may end up being the 1) longest, 2) least read, and 3) most unworthwhile (yes, it’s a word) post in the history of blogs. But fuck it, I’m doing it anyway.

If you’ve landed on this page, one of three things has happened:

  1. You’ve been a loyal reader, got an email notification about this post, and you clicked it. 
  2. You searched the internet for “docbastard vaccines” for some stupid reason, or 
  3. I or (hopefully) someone else referred you here from Twitter because you made some bullshit argument about vaccines. 

If it’s #3, there is at least a 99.21% chance (I calculated it) that you haven’t even read this far. But in case you have, please immediately refer to the number I listed so you can quickly find out why you’re wrong here wrong.

If that last sentence doesn’t make sense, just read on. Everyone else knows it will all come together by the end. 

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Anti-vaccination campaigners: Misleading and Unsafe

When it comes to public advocacy this year, one of the most effective announcements came in December.

The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission issued a public warning under s94A of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 with regard to the “misleading and unsafe practices by anti-vaccination campaigners”.

The HCCC had received numerous complaints about individuals and associations and is concerned about the risk they pose to public health and safety.

The anti-vaccination lobby pushes messages which;

have the potential to engender fear and alarm in the community, often targeting vulnerable members of the community through misinformation which may have a detrimental effect on the health care decisions of individuals.

 

PUBLIC WARNING UNDER S94A OF THE HEALTH CARE COMPLAINTS ACT 1993:  MISLEADING AND UNSAFE PRACTICES BY ANTI-VACCINATION CAMPAIGNERS

The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (“the Commission”) has received multiple complaints regarding misleading and unsafe practices by anti-vaccination (“anti-vax”) campaigners and the potential risks that such persons and associations pose to the public health and safety.

Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting people against harmful diseases before they come into contact with them. Immunisation protects individuals and the community by reducing the spread of preventable diseases.

Complaints have been received in relation to individuals (including registered and unregistered health practitioners as well as academics) and organisations engaged in the widespread promotion of dangerous anti-vax messages.

Why is this warning being issued?
Misleading and inaccurate information communicated by anti-vax campaigners has the potential to engender fear and alarm in the community and result in fewer people being vaccinated. This information commonly quotes scientific research and studies in support of anti-vax claims, but is often selective, including exaggerating the risks and minimising or discrediting the benefits of vaccines. The research presented does not align with the true evidence-base on which independent and government bodies worldwide make vaccination recommendations.

This is likely to have a detrimental effect on the health care decisions of individuals and may lead them to make decisions not to vaccinate which pose an avoidable risk to their own health and to the safety of the wider community.

It is unfortunate that anti-vax campaigners are also known to target particularly vulnerable members of the community, including impressionable young parents who are concerned about making the right health decisions for their infants.

The spread of misleading and false information by anti-vax campaigners presents an ongoing challenge for government agencies, particularly due to the rise in use of social media and the proliferation of information concerning vaccinations available via the internet.

Given the continuing efforts of anti-vax campaigners to mislead and misinform members of the public, the Commission considers it necessary to warn all health consumers of the danger of relying on information that is not from a reliable and trusted source. This can include websites that appear to be “professional” and groups that are well-organised in their approach. Some persons and associations will go as far as to distance themselves from “anti-vax” campaigners, while essentially promoting the same message.

What should consumers do to protect themselves?
The Commission strongly urges consumers to exercise caution in relying on information concerning the safety and efficacy of vaccinations which is promoted via social media and websites that are not government affiliated or endorsed. Further, consumers should be cautious of persons or groups spreading anti-vax messages via other means, including face-to-face information sessions and other public events.

In all cases the following factors should be considered by consumers when presented with any information or advice concerning the safety and efficacy of vaccines and immunisation programs in Australia.To ensure that you are receiving reliable information concerning the safety and efficacy of vaccinations and to assist you in making an informed decision concerning the benefits and risks of particular vaccines, it is recommended that you consult a registered medical practitioner (e.g. your family GP or paediatrician).

Health consumers should be particularly wary of persons claiming to be “experts” or to have conducted “research” into the safety and efficacy of vaccines or immunisation programs in circumstances where they do not hold relevant medical qualifications and are not a registered health practitioner.
Consumers should be wary of persons holding themselves out to hold qualifications that cannot be verified. If you wish to ensure that the person providing advice is a registered health practitioner you should check on the National Register of health practitioners – https://www.ahpra.gov.au/Registration/Registers-of-Practitioners.aspx

Health professionals play a role in health education and administration of vaccines, however it is not appropriate for health professionals to promote anti-vax messages via their personal social media pages or other online forums.  Consumers should avoid placing any reliance on “comments” made via social media that are not from a reliable and trusted source.

When researching online, it is recommended that you visit trusted government websites including the NSW Health and Commonwealth Department of Health websites and also the National Centre for Immunisation Surveillance and Research (NCIRS) website, which provide reliable information concerning immunisation and Immunisation Programs:

https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/immunisation/Pages/default.aspx

https://beta.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation

http://www.ncirs.edu.au/

 

The Health Care Complaints Commission (“the Commission”) has issued a public warning under s94A of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 regarding Misleading and Unsafe Practices by Anti-Vaccination Campaigners.

The Commission is concerned about a number of complaints it continues to receive regarding misleading and unsafe practices by anti-vaccination (“anti-vax”) campaigners and the potential risks that such persons and associations pose to the public health and safety.

Anti-vax messages have the potential to engender fear and alarm in the community, often targeting vulnerable members of the community through misinformation which may have a detrimental effect on the health care decisions of individuals. Anti-vax campaigners will often selectively quote scientific research and studies in support of anti-vax claims, including exaggerating the risks and minimising or discrediting the benefits of vaccines. The research presented does not align with the evidence-base on which independent and government bodies worldwide make recommendations.

Given the continuing efforts of anti-vax campaigners to mislead and misinform members of the public, the Commission considers it necessary to warn all health consumers of the danger of relying
on information that is not from a reliable and trusted source. This can include websites that appear to be “professional” and groups that are well-organised in their approach that often use popular mechanisms like social media to promote their messages.

What should consumers do to protect themselves?

The Commission strongly urges consumers to:

  • Exercise caution when relying on vaccination efficacy information which is promoted via social media and websites that are not government affiliated or endorsed;
  • Be cautious of persons or groups spreading anti-vax messages via other means, including face-to-face information sessions and other public events;
  • Be wary of persons claiming to be “experts” or to have conducted “research” into the safety and efficacy of vaccination programs;
  • Be wary of persons holding themselves out to hold qualifications that cannot be verified. If you wish to ensure that the person providing advice is a registered health practitioner you should check on the National Register of health practitioners – https://www.ahpra.gov.au/Registration/Registers-of-Practitioners.aspx;
  • Consult a registered medical practitioner concerning the benefits and risks of vaccines;
  • Visit trusted government websites when researching online, including the NSW Health and Commonwealth Department of Health websites and the National Centre for Immunisation Surveillance and Research (NCIRS) website.

 

Further Information

For further information, contact the Executive Officer of the Health Care Complaints Commission, on 9219 7444 or send an email to media@hccc.nsw.gov.au.

 

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?

Catherine Hughes interviewed on radio about a troll site “fact checking” the Light For Riley charity page

If [the death of infant son Riley] wasn’t enough for the Hughes family they were then subject, and continue to be subject, to a targeted
campaign of online abuse and harassment from the antivaccination movement. But they have kept up their public campaign
because they know better than anyone else the devastating consequences of these diseases.

August 8th 2017 – Shadow Health Minister Catherine King (video)
Australian Immunisation Register and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

The above was read out almost three months ago during House Debates in Parliament, by Shadow Health Minister Ms. Catherine King. She had just previously said;

I would like to finish today by sharing a story of a Western Australian family who I met a number of years ago and who continue to be huge champions for vaccination. They have had very personal and deep experience of just how dangerous vaccine-preventable diseases are. I refer particularly to Catherine and Greg Hughes, who’ve experienced what no parent should have to go through, losing their baby boy to whooping cough

It is clear that the regular consistency of what reasonable hank has called “the abhorrent attacks on the Hughes family”, has also caught Minister King’s attention.

Some minutes later Nola Marino MP, Liberal Representative for Forrest rose to speak and made reference to the Hughes family’s use of social media.

The family took to social media at the time not only to share their grief but also in a desire to help eradicate the disease. They were encouraging people to make sure that their children were vaccinated. In the days before Riley’s death, Mrs Hughes made an impassioned plea to other families to consider vaccinating their children against the disease. She said, ‘If you have not been immunised against whooping cough, please consider getting it done. It was heartbreaking to watch four-week old Riley struggle with it at Prince Margaret Hospital. Please keep him in your thoughts.’

For over two years Australians have benefited from the nonprofit organisation Light For Riley. As is clear in the audio below this charity relies on donations and strives to educate woman about the importance of pertussis boosters during the third trimester of pregnancy. The Hughes have campaigned not only for awareness but also for availability. Every State and Territory offers free pertussis booster shots to pregnant women.

An example of the work done by Catherine and Greg via light For Riley

Catherine Hughes was awarded the 2016 W.A. Young Australian of the Year. There are five words describing Catherine’s work in this summary that take on more significance, given the lies and accusations spread by antivaccinationists; With no thought of reward. Catherine and Greg also won The Australian Skeptics’ Thornett Award, which is given for the Promotion Of Reason, in October 2015.

Still there have been attacks of a reprehensible nature arising from the anti-vaccine lobby. Hank has examined these slurs since their inception and revealed those who invent accusations of barbaric cruelty. Catherine Hughes has responded more than once in writing to address attacks against Riley. By manufacturing conspiracy fantasy those responsible are convincing any observers with an eye for evidence that there is none to discredit Catherine Hughes, Greg Hughes or the Light For Riley charity.

Little has changed in two years and it appears little fresh air is on the antivaccine horizon. From Inside the anti-vaxxination cult, August 6th 2017;

WITHIN 24 hours of their baby boy’s death, Catherine and Greg Hughes were confronted with the ugliness that drives the misinformed anti-vax warriors.

The grieving parents were bombarded with vicious attacks claiming they were “baby-killers” and that their infant son Riley had died because they did not treat him with vitamins and essential oils.

But the inconvenient truth which the Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network and other anti-establishment radicals do not want to acknowledge is that Riley died of whooping cough, for which he was not vaccinated.

“We were told that we were baby-killers simply because we were raising awareness about pregnancy vaccination — a proven method of protecting infants from this disease which we weren’t told about at the time we were pregnant with Riley,” Ms Hughes told the Herald Sun.

“We were accused of being employees of pharmaceutical companies, we were told that our child didn’t ever exist, and we were even accused of killing Riley ourselves.”

[…]

Recently a page attacking Light For Riley appeared on Facebook. Capturing the very nadir of human behaviour in antivaccine circles, it is titled Light For Riley Fact Checker. Predictably the lies begin immediately. The logo proclaims, “Nearly died after my last vaccines. Still can’t get a medical exemption”. An image of a young girl accompanies this nonsense, but that’s as far as it goes. There’s no story, no evidence, no medical statement. Nothing. It is vile and insulting but yet again reveals the fantasy world dependent upon conspiracy that the anti-vaccine lobby can’t live without. Wayne Baird – the AVSN’s shiny new public officer is an administrator.

Any child who genuinely almost died from a diagnosed Adverse Event Following Immunisation would be afforded exceptional care. Yet the bogus claim made over and again by antivaccinationists is that vaccines cause serious injuries and death. The reality is that they do not, yet making this claim appears to assuage any need for diagnosis, documentation or indeed any evidence beyond the claim itself. More so if a claimed vaccine harm occurs in consonance with a supposed conspiracy designed to suppress information the antivaccinationist may confidently argue that deaths from vaccine preventable disease serve to promote vaccination.

This particular Big Pharma claim is a favourite of Judy Wilyman and the AVSN. Also without any evidence the so-called “fact checker” has accused Catherine and Greg Hughes of being paid off by pharmaceutical companies. Tracy Hardy from Mouths of Mums has written about the scam page here. OUTRAGE: Antivax Facebook group mocks the death of baby boy. This is beyond outrageous and has our blood boiling along with this poor family. Yes indeed. Hard to disagree with that observation.

The page not only presents an outright lie concerning a near fatal vaccine injury but attempts to discredit information on Light For Riley. One bizarre post challenges donations for polio vaccines in third world countries. Apparently Light For Riley, “haven’t told your supporters is that polio is transmitted via the oral-faecal route, so hygiene and clean water are very important for preventing polio transmission.” It’s more likely that supporters are aware of this and also of the horror of polio in developed nations before Salk’s vaccine.

What I find most concerning about this “fact check” page is that it relies on the dodgy kudos inherent in vaccine injuries. Across the anti-vaccine lobby the notion that all vaccines potentially cause serious harm all the time is being pushed. Therefore vaccine injuries are rampant. Vaccines don’t really work and the pertussis vaccine is the cause of pertussis.

Disinformation being pushed about vaccines is big on fear yet free of substance.

  • ♣ Below – Catherine Hughes speaking with Oliver Peterson on Perth Live, 6PR October 25th

Greg Hughes responds to the so-called “Fact Checker” page;

Just when you think anti-vaccine lobbyists can’t sink to a new low, last night we were alerted to a page set up, mocking our dead son and lying about us.

Normally I’m not one to provide any oxygen to pages full of misinformation, however a couple of items on the page caught my eye and so I refused to let this one slip.

The about section states as follows:

“This page is making the Light For Riley page accountable to the misinformation they spread about vaccines. Light For Riley are funded by pharmaceutical companies to promote the death of their baby. This page is unfunded and has no conflicts of interest when it comes to promoting accurate information about the vaccine industry.”

Let me give these anonymous liars a fact-check of their own.

We have NEVER accepted funding from pharmaceutical companies. We are run by volunteers, nobody is paid a wage and our activism has only come at expense to us. For the most part we have poured our own money and efforts into the campaign with the two primary motivations being to honour our son and to ensure no family endures the heartache we suffered.

[…]

SIDS: Not caused by vaccination or ‘mattress toxin’

From a typical anti-vaccine site pushing vaccine injuries:

SIDS_and_pertussis

These figures do not confirm causality. See explanation below ♣

One claim the anti-vaccine lobby use in their attack against the efficacy of the pertussis vaccine is the high uptake rate. The logic being that with high uptake and proper vaccine efficacy, pertussis should be better controlled than it is. In fact completely controlled. Thus the pertussis vaccine is a failure.

Whilst the vaccine may not provide impervious protection, infection of those vaccinated is much less common and markedly less severe.

And those not vaccinated against pertussis? According to Immunise Australia:

In a household where someone has whooping cough, an estimated 80-90% of the unimmunised contacts of that person will acquire the disease.

These realities won’t shift committed antivaccinationists. They will be convinced by the terribly misleading claim above, using unrelated figures on SIDS and pertussis vaccination. I find it astonishing anyone could be swayed by it. Yet for readers unskilled in finding reputable information or not prone to checking alarming claims it has an intuitive ring of causality.

♣ Infants receive vaccine doses at two, four and six months of age. 90% of SIDS cases occur in the first six months of life, and most of these in the first three months. The risk decreases consistently. After twelve months babies are by definition not infants and the risk of Sudden Unexplained Death is significantly reduced.

So the claim above merely sounds plausible because infants are most at risk of SIDS up to six months. Over this time they have three pertussis vaccines. The vast majority of children in developed nations will follow the pertussis vaccination schedule.

SIDS and Kids is an Australian organisation that supports educating the public about the “significantly” reduced risk of SIDS that accompanies immunisation. They have also noted that when the age of first immunisation was lowered by four weeks there was no lowering of the average age of SIDS.

SIDS and kids

SIDS_ImmunisationsDownload the full SIDS and Kids PDF Information Statement – Immunisation

German research published in Vaccine in 2007 indicates that immunisation notably reduces the risk of SIDS. Vennemann et al concluded in Do immunisations reduce the risk of SIDS? A meta-analysis (bold mine):

Immunisations are associated with a halving of the risk of SIDS. There are biological reasons why this association may be causal, but other factors, such as the healthy vaccine effect, may be important. Immunisations should be part of the SIDS prevention campaigns.

A constant assertion from the anti-vaccine lobby is that of “too many, too soon”, contending that modern vaccine schedules overwhelm infants and children in a manner yet to be uncovered. An earlier study by Vennemann et al, Sudden infant death syndrome: No increased risk after immunisation found no evidence for this but rather the opposite.

  • Results:

SIDS cases were immunised less frequently and later than controls. Furthermore there was no increased risk of SIDS in the 14 days following immunisation. There was no evidence to suggest the recently introduced hexavalent vaccines were associated with an increased risk of SIDS.

  • Conclusion:

This study provides further support that immunisations may reduce the risk of SIDS.

A number of studies have been conducted in Australasia, North America and Europe. All confirm that immunisation is not causally linked to SIDS. Thus early immunisation is coincidental to the age at which SIDS is most likely. In fact the reverse is true with respect to causality. SIDS cases are less likely to be immunised or fully immunised. Unlike most “vaccine injuries” this favourite fear tactic of antivaccinationists does have an origin in a published report.

The CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 1979; 28: 131-132 noted in DTP vaccination and sudden infant deaths – Tennessee that four babies had died within 24 hours of being immunised. The following Weekly Report clarifies (pp. 134-135) under Follow-up on DTP vaccination and sudden infant deaths – Tennessee:

Further examination of the vaccination histories of infants who died suddenly has revealed no additional instances of vaccination within 24 hours before death.
Thus, 4 deaths have been found that occurred within 24 hours after receipt of vaccine from Lot No. 64201, compared with no deaths within 24 hours after DTP vaccination in the earlier 8-month period in Tennessee.
In 1991 The Institute of Medicine published a thorough examination of this matter. Item 5 of Adverse Effects of Pertussis and Rubella Vaccines: A Report of the Committee to Review the Adverse Consequences of Pertussis and Rubella Vaccines, is Evidence Concerning Pertussis Vaccines and Deaths Classified as SIDS. The article reviews the initial CDC Weekly Report along with 38 other reports and research papers spanning the 12 year interval. The summary includes:
All controlled studies that have compared immunized versus nonimmunized children (Table 5-1) have found either no association (Bouvier-Colle et al., 1989; Pollock et al., 1984; Taylor and Emery, 1982) or a decreased risk (Hoffman et al., 1987; Walker et al., 1987) of SIDS among immunized children.
[…]
One small controlled study of infants with unexplained apnea, who may be at increased risk for SIDS, demonstrated improvement in ventilatory patterns following DPT immunization (Keens et al., 1985).
  • Conclusion

The evidence does not indicate a causal relation between DPT vaccine and SIDS. Studies showing a temporal relation between these events are consistent with the expected occurrence of SIDS over the age range in which DPT immunization typically occurs.

It’s important to note that at this stage no research demonstrating a reduction in SIDS due to immunisation had been published. Consequently the authors do not mention this effect.

In 1995 E.A. Mitchell et al examined the association between immunisation and SIDS. They observed there is no increased risk of SIDS following the Hepatitis B immunisation or the 6 week DTP immunisation. They also noted early studies suggesting an increased risk of SIDS with immunisation had no control data. Two studies with controls that suggested such a temporal link demonstrated methodological bias.

Mitchell et al concluded:

Immunisation does not increase the risk of SIDS and may even lower the risk.

Jacqueline Muller-Nordhorn et el published Association between SIDS and DTP immunisation: an ecological study [10.1186/s12887-015-0318-7]. The aim was to analyse this association over time. The body of the paper’s Discussion included;

  • SIDS mortality rates have been inversely associated with DTP immunisation coverage in the United States over recent decades
  • The most notable decreases in SIDS rates occurred from 1991 onwards, coinciding with increases in DTP immunisation
  • In 2011, the Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome included immunisation as one of the recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS [Citation]
  • However, recommendations to the public and the ‘grey literaure’ often do not include immunisation in the prevention of SIDS. Prevailing safety concerns with regard to immunisation may have played a role in this hesistance for many years
  • DTP immunisation may protect against SIDS by preventing infection with Bordetella (B.) pertussis. SIDS might thus be undiagnosed pertussis
  • In approximately 50–80% of SIDS cases, signs of upper and lower respiratory tract infection, characterised by a mild cellular infiltrate, have been found
  • Furthermore, similar to DTP immunisation, OPV immunisation was associated with a reduced risk of SIDS. Case–control studies have associated a similar reduction in SIDS risk with DTP and OPV immunisation, whereas less evidence is available regarding Hib immunisation
  • In addition to the pertussis component, DTP includes diphtheria and tetanus components. Certain countries, such as England and Sweden, previously experienced major decreases in pertussis immunisation but administered diphtheria and tetanus vaccines separately, thus maintaining high coverage
  • The SIDS trends in these countries were similar to the trends in the United States. Thus, diphtheria and tetanus immunisation seem less likely to be associated with SIDS

They concluded:

DTP immunisation is inversely associated with SIDS mortality on the population level. The current findings may strengthen parents’ confidence in the benefit of DTP immunisation, especially as they are supported by the results of two meta-analyses*.

*See Vennemann et al, above.

October 2010 saw the Scientific consensus forum to review the evidence underpinning the recommendations of the Australian SIDS and Kids Safe Sleeping Health Promotion Programme [PDF]. This Position Paper is published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health [doi:10.1111/j.1440-1754.2011.02215.x]

SIDSandKids_key points

The document is an excellent publication covering the evidence and recommendations that apply to reducing SIDS. On page three the topic of Immunisation is addressed:

Parents are advised to immunise their babies according to the national vaccination schedule. The possibility of the DTP (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis) vaccination being linked to SIDS has been discussed periodically over the last 20 years, however a series of studies have consistently refuted the association. A recent meta-analysis published provides strong evidence that immunisation is associated with a decreased risk of SIDS (OR 0.54; 95% CI = 0.39–0.76).

We should note that the delightfully immoral antivactionist and author of Melanie’s Marvellous Measles, Stephanie Messenger was involved in peddling a long debunked “prevention” for SIDS. In fact SIDS and Kids have their own evidence based and comprehensive publication outlining why mattress wrapping offers no protection. A March 2003 article in Pediatric and Developmental Pathology, SIDS: Overview and Update offers evidence to debunk both the “mattress toxin” myth and proposed links to immunisation (p. 121).

In 1989 in the UK Barry Richardson contended that the fungus Scopularis brevicaulis broke down fire retardant chemicals in mattresses or their PVC covers. This produced arsine, phosphine and stibine gases from antimony, phosphorous and arsenic. A UK study failed to replicate Richardson’s findings. A follow up study with Richardson’s collaboration also failed to duplicate the proposed findings.

I highly recommend reading the SIDS and Kids information sheet on this pseudoscientific mess and the conspiracy hovering over it. In May 1998 an Expert Group to Investigate Cot Death Theories: Toxic Gas Hypothesis, UK examined all available evidence and found:

…there is no evidence to suggest that antimony or phosphorus containing compound used as fire retardant in PVC and other cot mattress materials are a cause of sudden infant death syndrome.

This conclusion is based upon the following:

  1. Cot mattress contamination with the fungus S. brevicalis is rare, and no more common in SIDS mattresses than in other used mattresses.
  2. There is no evidence for the generation of gases from phosphorus, arsenic and antimony from cot mattresses, by S. brevecaulis, when tested using conditions relevant to a baby’s cot. (the group did, however, identify laboratory conditions, wholly unlike those that could occur in a baby’s cot, in which added antimony is biovolatilised, but to the much less toxic trimethylantimony and not to stibine).
  3. There is no evidence of poisoning by phosphine, arsine, or stibine (or bethylated derivatives) in babies who have died of SIDS.
  4. Low amounts of antimony can be detected in samples from the majority of live babies, and even newborn babies: the concentrations in the tissues of SIDS babies were not different from those dying from known causes. there are a number of sources of antimony in the domestic environment other than the fire retardant in cot mattress materials.
  5. We have found no evidence that the changing rates of sudden infant death correspond to the introduction and removal of antimony – and phosphorus – containing fire retardant in cot mattresses.

SIDS and Kids also mention the conspiracy book Cot Death Cover-up? by N.Z. forensic chemist Jim Sprott. Stephanie Messenger also mentioned this book at her secret seminars wherein she peddled her “mattress covers” to protect against SIDS. There is a fascinating February 2012 account of a conspiracy laden seminar on the Skeptimite blog. In April of this year it was reported that Messenger had the charity status of her “SIDS charity” Get Rid Of SIDS revoked.

Just as well one feels. Not only because the scam had done no charity work and employed nobody. Messenger had gone from blaming vaccination for SIDS to pushing the phoney toxic gas theory as the cause – 20 years after it was first debunked and progressively relegated to conspiracy theory. When Messenger’s plan to bring the very harmful anti-vaccine heroine Sherri Tenpenny to Australia, she then advocated readers purchase her pro-measles book to help her out of debt.

Ultimately nothing has changed with respect to the anti-vaccine claim that SIDS is caused by vaccines. In fact evidence supporting the opposite remains firm.

We may also rest assured that mattress wrapping is an evidence free, conspiracy based waste of time.