Category Archives: Vaccinations

Skeptical, Evidence Based Thinking

Be skeptical, not cynical

According to George Hrab, being skeptical — as opposed to being cynical or denialist — is a good thing. Doubts and reservations are the backbone of science and reason and have led to some of humanity’s greatest achievements.

He is a musician, a comedian, a storyteller, and a skeptic. He has written and produced seven independent CDs and one concert DVD; published two books; recorded hundreds of episodes of an award winning podcast; and has emceed numerous international science conferences, all while being the drummer for The Philadelphia Funk Authority. He’s travelled to four continents promoting critical thinking, science, and skepticism through story and song.

He says he is considered one of the preeminent skeptic/science/atheist/geek-culture music icons currently living in his apartment. (Whaaaat? Yup, that’s what he says.)

For about the first four minutes of this talk, he discusses Jenny McArthy and the anti-vaccine movement she helped to found. She popularized a fraudulent 1998 study that claimed to link the MMR vaccines most children are required to get with autism.

Jenny McCarthy - not very skeptical
Photo by planetc1

She even claimed her own son got autism from the shots, but Hrab points out that what he actually had was something else with no connection to the shots and that he is doing well now, a few years later.

The study was later withdrawn by the scientific journal that published it and the researcher lost his right to practice medicine, because of his fraudulent and unethical methodologies. Many studies done since have shown no link between the vaccinations and autism, but it is difficult to undo the harm that was done by believing bad science non skeptically.

He points out that Jenny McCarthy is not a bad person. She just isn’t very skeptical, so she drew wrong, harmful conclusions.

  • He advocates evidence based thinking and embracing your doubt.
  • When you hear a new piece of information, say, “Whaaaaat?”
  • “Every time you look on the Web,” he says, “Every time you receive a piece of email … pretend it’s April 1st.” April Fool’s Day. You don’t want to be the fool. Don’t assume everything is wrong; just check the evidence. If there’s no evidence, then don’t hesitate to doubt. Be skeptical.
  • Don’t be afraid to doubt. Doubt drives the engine of science.

Everybody should be skeptical

“Everyone is susceptible,” he says. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote Sherlock Holmes, believed in fairies in the garden. Little flying girls with butterfly wings. The only way to avoid believing a lot of nonsense is to be skeptical.

“Most important,” he says, “Don’t take my word for it.”


MERS Virus

MERS virus in camel cellA few days ago, I posted a picture of a bunch of MERS viruses–more specifically known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)–attacking a monkey cell. Here’s a similar picture from the current Science News of MERS viruses attacking a cluster of camel cells. To my untrained eyes, it looks like a much lighter infection.

When I posted the previous picture, I mentioned that South Korea had closed schools and canceled public events to stop the outbreak there from becoming a pandemic. At that time, 30 people were known to be infected including one who had travelled to China. 1,369 people were under quarantine in South Korea.

As of July 27, there have been 186 known infections between South Korea and China, and 36 patients have died.

This is another viral disease, like ebola and AIDS and flu and colds. Like the other viral diseases, it does not respond to antibiotics. There is no known cure for it and no vaccine to prevent it. It apparently travels through the air on tiny droplets of spittle when somebody coughs or sneezes, the same way flu and cold viruses do.

All that currently can be done for patients is to treat the symptoms and hope their immune systems eventually defeat the infections. It works in about 60% to 70% of patients. The other 30% to 40% die.

In May of this year, two healthcare workers arrived in the United States from different cities in Saudi Arabia. Both had travelled through England. Within days after arrival in the US, they were both sick with MERS, apparently having been infected in Saudi Arabia. Both were hospitalized and treated and released a few days later. No other cases of MERS have been found in the United States….yet.

The good news now is that a protein has been found in the blood of a recovered patient that seems to latch onto the virus and prevent it from infecting cells. In mice, it has dramatically reduced infection in as little as three days. It will take time, but this protein may become the basis for a vaccine to prevent the disease or a treatment for people who get it. Maybe both.

But the pharmaceutical industry works slowly, as it must. Development and testing take a long time. Such a vaccine or drug will not become available in time to help with this current outbreak.

A free 2-page information sheet about MERS is available from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention here.



Get Your Vaccines

Only vaccines wiped out smallpox, the terrible disease that previously killed so many millions of people every year.

Only vaccines have more recently wiped out polio — that horrible, crippling, maiming, killing disease from my own childhood that put thousands of Americans in “iron lungs” because they couldn’t even breathe — from the United States and most of the rest of the world. (Only fear of the vaccinations has permitted polio to still exist in about half-a-dozen third-world countries. And, of course, fear of the vaccines permits the disease to spread back into the rest of the world from time to time. So, for now, we still have to vaccinate against a disease that should have been extinct for more than a decade.)

Some other diseases — like flu, for example — we’ll probably never be able to eradicate. But annual flu vaccines can prevent most of the 26,000 flu-related deaths that occur in the United States alone every year.

I know I’ve said it before, but it’s important. Get your vaccines.

Get Your Flu Shot

If you have heart disease your're at high risk of flu complications. Get a flu shot to help keep your heart happy and healthy.

Who Should Get Vaccinated This Season?

Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season. This recommendation has been in place since February 24, 2010 when CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the United States to expand protection against the flu to more people.

Vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza.

If you are eligible to get a flu shot, get it. Some people can’t, for medical reasons. Don’t spread the flu to them.

U.S. Measles Cases Reach 20-Year High

Amish Community
Amish Community
(Sorry. I couldn’t embed this PBS program. Just click the link and follow instructions for the best scientific answers to your questions about vaccination.)

 Measles Hits Amish Communities, and U.S. Cases Reach 20-Year High

Unfortunately, they weren’t vaccinated against measles before they left the United States; so they contracted the disease, brought it home, and triggered the worst American outbreak in 20 years. So far, the 130 known cases have been mostly among the unvaccinated members of their own communities.

It’s not all Amish, of course. Altogether, current outbreaks have been brought by travellers from “more than a dozen different countries.” Forty-one people so far have been hospitalized in this outbreak that covered 18 states, but nobody has died so far.

This number is small compared to the hundreds of thousands that swept the US as late as the 1960s, before the disease was almost wiped out in the developed world by vaccinations. Even now, “more than 20 million people around the world (get measles) each year.”

It really is important (and safe) to get your vaccinations. Especially if you plan to travel out of the country.

Resource: 29, 2014