By Meryl Nass, MD
March 5, 2012
Uneducated paean to vaccines
One particularly obnoxious quality of mine is that I do not suffer fools gladly. I get mad; I get contemptuous; and I want to get even. So when I read this uneducated paean to VACCINES I was forced to respond. When the newspaper would not publish my response and instead sent a little box that said "Oops" I got madder. Here is the result:
A vaccine is something designed to stimulate the immune system. (Actually some drugs do that too.) Most vaccines get injected, but some get swallowed. Most drugs get swallowed, but some get injected. When medical practitioners have to know that every drug does not have a positive benefit/risk ratio for every patient, how can some medical practitioners believe that every vaccine's benefits overwhelmingly outweigh its risks?
The authors of this article lump all vaccines together. For example:
1. "Vaccines have been saving our children, our pets and us from the ravages of countless bacteria and viruses.
2. The science of vaccines has come a long way, over the 200 years since Edward Jenner coined the term vaccination...
3. Vaccines are the seat belts against many infections..."
Yet the authors wouldn't think of lumping all drugs together and claiming uniform effectiveness. Nor would they claim for drugs (as a class) as they do for vaccines: "The risks of any side effects are far outweighed by the benefits of vaccines..."
In fact, each vaccine is different from every other, and each has its unique benefits and risks. Many vaccines (for both humans and animals) have been taken off the market because they increased susceptibility to the disease they were intended to prevent, or caused severe adverse reactions. (I have blogged on this issue previously, with examples.)
Vaccines that recently caused more problems than they solved have included Rotashield, Lymerix and Pandemrix. Pandemrix was estimated to have saved 6 lives in Sweden, but caused 170 cases of narcolepsy in Swedish children.
If anything, the effect of Pandemrix was "public health in reverse" -- at least in Scandinavia and Finland, where most of the studies have been done.
Vaccines have been made from the pus of calves' bellies (smallpox), monkey kidneys (polio) fetal cells (Hepatitis A, Rabies, Varicella and Zostavax vaccines), insect proteins (Cervarix), mouse proteins (Japanese Encephalitis vaccine) -- need I say more? -- and have included many known and unknown extraneous viruses and other unwanted material. Plus vaccines may have heavy metals and potentially dangerous adjuvants that were deliberately added.
There is no reason to glorify every product that comes under the rubric 'vaccine'. To a great extent, the value of a vaccine is a function of the reliability of its manufacture and its testing. Testing before licensure is entirely paid for by the manufacturer, and all data are owned by the manufacturer. FDA approves and then crafts a label (with the manufacturer) describing the safety and efficacy of the product based only on these data.
In general, vaccine manufacturers are protected against product liability lawsuits. That protection is absolute in the US for some vaccines, like anthrax and smallpox, and it was granted overseas for the 2009 Pandemrix and other swine flu vaccines.
I can assure the article's authors that no evidence shows that anthrax vaccine is effective for inhaled anthrax in humans. Anthrax has never been used against soldiers, and therefore has not protected any soldiers from anthrax, despite the authors' claims. But it has led to serious illnesses in 1-2% of recipients, according to the CDC and General Accounting Office. See pages 3-4.
For vaccines, as much else in life, the devil is in the details. And public access to those details (especially regarding safety) remains constrained. Why the data are hidden should concern you.