If the majority of people accept that grass is generally green, but you’re pretty sure it’s purple… What do you do? Do you take the general consensus on board and get your eyes tested…or do you assume the consensus is wrong and you are, in fact, correct? Do you assume that there is some kind of conspiracy that relies on thousands of people lying about the colour of the grass so convincingly that they fool the majority into believing them?
This illustrates how I feel about those who are virulently opposed to vaccination. Case in point being a blog post I came across last weekend. This post claims that the mainstream media is peddling propaganda about the whooping cough vaccine by encouraging people to vaccinate their kids, themselves and targeting pregnant mothers.The blog post references several articles and studies, however I believe these have been misinterpreted and/or misrepresented and the author has made some big leaps, resulting in some potentially dangerous recommendations that I don’t believe the author is actually qualified to make.
The blogger starts out saying that reminders to vaccinate against whooping cough are everywhere on social media, in our baby health check books, at our doctor’s surgeries and so on. These reminders are targeted at everyone from parents, to grandparents and pregnant women.
Yes, this is true. Why is that? The blogger seems to believe the media isn’t informed and is therefore making these recommendations based on incomplete information. Or… could it be that the media (advised by health authorities), doctors and actual health authorities are encouraging vaccination against whooping cough because it saves lives- an assertion they make after many years of research and study? How likely is it that a blogger knows more than every leading health authority in the world? Because all of them, from our own health agencies, to the American Center for Disease Control to the World Health Organisation itself recommend vaccination against pertussis and vaccination in general.
Does the Pertussis Vaccine Work?
This post states that the vaccine does not work and firstly references this article; saying that 80% of cases seen in Australia are a mutated strain of pertussis. What it actually says is that the effectiveness of the current vaccine could be reduced due to a mutated strain that is free of pertactin, a key surface protein. The article discusses the mutation of the strain of pertussis that may have occurred in response to the vaccine we currently use. The article refers to a period between 2008 and 2012 in which Australia had 142000 cases of pertussis and also mentions that this is an unusually high number- some of which could be attributed to better testing methods, meaning the numbers from previous years may not be as accurate as we’d like them to be. The 80% the blogger referred to, I assume, refers to this sentence: “About 80 per cent of the 2012 whooping cough cases in Australia studied by the team were caused by pertactin-free strains.” So 80% of the strains studied in one particular year. It also says there is no evidence that pertactin-free strains are more harmful than others and that further study is needed. Nowhere does it say the vaccine doesn’t work. In fact, it quotes Associate Professor Lan, one of the senior authors of that study, saying the following:
“The acellular pertussis vaccine produces antibodies against pertussis toxin which is the main cause of severe disease symptoms produced by the whooping cough bacterium. Vaccination is still the only way to protect against whooping cough, especially for the youngest babies who are most at risk of severe illness.”
Vaccination and Para Pertussis.
The blogger also says that several recent studies have shown that people vaccinated against pertussis are more likely to develop para pertussis. She links to one study to back up this assertion. A study done on rats, not humans. This particular study is often referenced by anti-vaxxers, however, the data doesn’t quite match the conclusion. This article, written by a blogger who is very well qualified to do so, explains what the data from that particular study shows. Again, results do not state that the vaccine doesn’t work nor is it conclusive that being vaccinated against pertussis means you are more likely to develop para pertussis.
Transmission and Causes.
Next we get to asymptomatic transmission bit. Can vaccinated people spread pertussis? Possibly. Does this potential infection come from the vaccine? NO. It comes from exposure to pertussis. The article linked by the blogger refers to a study done on baboons a few years ago. It showed that vaccinated baboons could, after exposure to pertussis, still carry the illness for up to several weeks and spread it. The third line of the article states this has yet to be replicated in humans. It’s likely this is the case since our DNA is so similar to that of baboons but it is not a certainty. The blogger goes on to state that “recently vaccinated” people can visit a newborn baby and potentially infect that baby without knowing it (this is assuming they have been exposed to pertussis and are now carrying an active infection with no symptoms). Let’s accept that this is a possibility. However, let’s step back for a second. Pertussis is at its most contagious in the very first stage of the illness. This stage usually presents as a mild cold and lasts 1-2 weeks. The first signs and symptoms of infection include a runny nose, sore and/or red eyes, a low fever and feeling unwell. However, an infected person may not have all of these symptoms. They might only have one or two and not realise until they are into the second stage of the illness. I personally have 3 of those symptoms right now- because I have a touch of hay fever. You see how easily it could be missed or mistaken for something else? So, someone who has a mild cold may pop a couple of cold and flu tablets to diminish their symptoms or may be very careful about hand-washing and still go along to visit a new baby. Someone else may only have one symptom like sore eyes and put it down to a seasonal allergy. They may even try to keep their distance from the baby just in case- but at this point they are highly contagious. In these scenarios, is a vaccinated person having the potential to carry the disease and spread it the only risk? Or are people infected with pertussis in the early stages of the illness not just as great a risk? Yet this is not mentioned by the blogger. She seems to believe that an active infection means the sick person would KNOW they could be potentially infectious, but this simply isn’t the case.
A Change to the Vaccine.
The blogger then implies that an increase in pertussis vaccination is to blame for higher rates of pertussis. What she doesn’t mention is the change in the vaccine. Pertussis vaccinations given now are what is called acellular vaccines. Previously, whole cell vaccines were used (and still are in some parts of the world). This is significant information. The whole cell vaccine was very effective but did carry a slightly greater risk of side effects. Studies have indicated that the acellular vaccine is not as effective as the whole cell version. This article is well referenced and explains it better than I can. So there is that- a different, less effective (but reportedly safer) vaccine. We must also remember that our testing methods are more sensitive than they used to be.
Another Study, Another Conclusion?
Then there is mention of a study by a Dr Witt showing a higher incidence of the disease in previously vaccinated individuals. There was no link, so I did some searching and found the study I believe she is referring to. Interestingly, her conclusion is different to that included in the study, which found a greater rate of the pertussis infection in vaccinated children between the ages of 8 and 12 and recommended “earlier or more numerous boosters” be given to prevent outbreaks or as part of the immunisation schedule. She then says “Another study found that 85% of cases of whooping cough in schools occurred in vaccinated children.” and linked this to a summary on an anti-vaccination website. The actual study can be viewed here and again, her conclusion is very different to the researcher’s conclusion, which was that doctors should not rule out a diagnosis of pertussis just because a child has been immunised.
The Vaccine Insert.
We then come to an interpretation of the vaccine insert, which is the information sheet inside the actual vaccine package. This lists things like ingredients, side effects and so on. Previously, the blog post stated that side effects listed on the vaccine insert included (among other things) SIDS. It was pointed out that this was not true. It appears to have been edited, thankfully, and several inaccurate conditions that were listed have been removed, so it’s great that some feedback was taken on board. You can view the insert online here.
The blog post now states the possible side effects of the vaccine to be headache, fatigue, fever, nervous system disorders, convulsions and immune system disorders. Let’s compare this to the insert.
Headache: Yes, it’s listed as a common side effect, under the heading “Nervous System Disorder” in adults, adolescents and children over the age of 10.
Fatigue: Listed as common in both adults and children.
Nervous system disorders: Yes. In adults, adolescents and children over 10 years: headache (very common), dizziness (common), syncope (fainting- uncommon). In children aged 4-9 years it lists somnolence (drowsiness- very common), headache (common) and disturbances in attention (uncommon). Convulsions are also listed as being rare.
Convulsions: See above- rare.
Immune System Disorders: Very rare; allergic reactions, including anaphylactic and anaphylactoid reactions.
When you actually read the insert it’s less scary than it seems on the blog post. Adverse reactions- serious adverse reactions- to vaccines DO happen but they are VERY rare.
The part about vaccines in pregnancy starts off with something about mercury content in fish that really is irrelevant because this is a vaccine being discussed, not a fish, and it doesn’t contain mercury. But anyway, there is some scary sounding chemicals mentioned which I assume is an ‘appeal to nature‘ argument (where it is implied that ‘natural=good and chemical=bad’) then the blogger pulls part of one sentence from the insert regarding use during pregnancy: “adequate human data on use during pregnancy are not available”.
Sounds scary, right? Here’s the full section:It seems a lot less frightening after reading all that, to me at least. It’s also interesting to note that previously, the blogger has referred to studies involving rodents and baboons as evidence for her assertions but this information regarding studies on rats and rabbits is disregarded completely.
I haven’t covered everything mentioned in the blog post, but I think I’ve covered a fair bit. Vaccine safety and efficacy is something I have been reading up on for around 9 years now and I’m still well and truly learning. I’m always happy to be corrected (because how else do we learn if not through our mistakes?)
However, I’m a writer with a blog- what would I know? I’m no scientist.
Don’t take my word for it anymore than you’d take the other blogger’s word. In this previous post I have a list of reputable sources of information. Got more questions? See your doctor. Not satisfied? Ask for a specialist referral. If you’re really wanting to learn the ins and outs, get yourself to a university and enrol to study or start by finding a free course online to gradually help build up your knowledge- there are loads of them. But don’t put the life of your children or anyone else into the hands of a blogger because there is always a chance that their convictions outweigh their actual knowledge.
The point of this post is to demonstrate just how differently two untrained people can interpret the same information.
If your interpretation is significantly different from the scientific consensus- don’t just assume you’re right! Ask yourself why your interpretation is different. It could well mean you aren’t reading or interpreting information correctly. This is something that can be learned. But until then- refer to the experts. The people with years of study and a wealth of knowledge that practice medicine or spend years in labs trying to develop things to help us- not because they are part of some global conspiracy to get rich off the backs of sick kids. The blogger who wrote the post I’ve just dissected? I don’t doubt for a moment that her motivations are good and that she believes in what she’s saying. In fact I’m positive that she believes that she is using her platform to educate and that her intentions are good- but good intentions just aren’t enough when it comes to medical advice and the health of our children and ourselves.
I have to give special thanks to Rebecca from Seeing the Lighter Side who helped me edit this mammoth post. What a legend.
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