Anti-Vaccine Notions Misleading…Again

I sometimes answer friends requests for analysis, such as I can offer, on Facebook and such.  Today this article was forwarded to me:

Study: Whooping cough outbreak linked to vaccinated children

Go read it. It is short.  The conclusion it draws have also been picked up by the Natural News

Now that that is done, here was my quick analysis:

As a vaccine does not give 100% protection this is not unusual – all it takes is a drop in herd immunity and outbreaks occur among the vaccinated – what the study did not report on is the severity of the illness in the vaccinated vs. the unvaccinated which I suspect was attenuated due to the prior immune response. It is also a warning against skipping a dose and it may point to further boosters being required for immunity to continue.

What is more, the researchers, unlike the DJ author Elliot Freeman,  did not extrapolate the results of the study to imply that those who are unvaccinated are at greater risk for whooping cough than those who are vaccinated: the study did not address this. It is pure fantasy to suggest that this is the case.

Finally, the original Reuters article did not make the distinction between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, but between different ages of vaccinated kids: “immunized children between eight and 12 years old were more likely to catch the bacterial disease than kids of other ages.” This was not made entirely clear in the article, I will admit, so Freeman could have extrapolated incorrectly based on this mistake, so I went to the source.

It is clear in the abstract that the comparison in age groups was between vaccinated children and the dip occurred in the 8-12 year range, right before the second boost at 11-12 years was required (it also rebounded after the second booster shot to a more acceptable level: “Vaccine Effectiveness was 41%, 24%, 79%, for ages 2-7, 8-12, 13-18″).

Reuters and Freeman did not do their homework or were sloppy in reporting. What is important about this study is that the vaccine schedule may need to be amended to have an earlier booster. I say may because this is one study and we need to confirm the results to know they are real.

Mike Adams in the Natural News goes farther, no surprise there, and states outright that vaccinated children had higher rates of pertussis than unvaccinated children, which is not stated in either the Reuters article or the original research.  He is just making this stuff up.

In the case of the NYT article cited by Freeman, several plausible solutions were given for the increase of pertussis cases in NY state that he chose to ignore and instead imply that the vaccine did not work properly.

As for the shot at the flu vaccine: again, Freeman should read the entire article on Science Daily(which is a press release site and not even just an abstract publisher) or even go to the original Plos article which is free here.

We find a bit of a milder conclusion than Freeman insinuates:

“Because all the investigations in this study are “observational,” the people who had been vaccinated might share another unknown characteristic that is actually responsible for increasing their risk of developing pH1N1 illness (“confounding”). Furthermore, the results reported in this study might have arisen by chance, although the consistency of results across the studies makes this unlikely. Thus, the finding of an association between prior receipt of 2008–09 TIV and an increased risk of pH1N1 illness is not conclusive and needs to be investigated further, particularly since some other observational studies conducted in other countries have reported that seasonal vaccination had no influence or may have been associated with reduced chances of pH1N1 illness. “

What the studies were testing was not the H1N1 vaccine, but a seasonal vaccine that did not contain it – as not everyone gets vaccinated and compliance is highest among those at greatest risk, I can see a confounding factor existing: populations at highest risk for the flu are also getting the seasonal vaccine so they are also independently at higher risk for getting the H1N1 strain. This may not be true, but surely the answer to this is not to withhold the seasonal flu strain but to include H1N1 in the vaccine.

So, in reading the same sources that Freeman  has quoted I can come to a more supportable conclusion: the pertussis vaccine might wear off so make sure your boosters are up to date, and the more people we have vaccinated with more comprehensive vaccines, the safer we will be.

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  • Michael Kruse

    Michael is an advanced-care paramedic in York Region, just north of Toronto, Ontario. A semi-retired theatrical lighting designer as well, he re-trained in 2005 as an EMT-PS at the University of Iowa and as an ACP at Durham College, and is currently working towards a B.Sc at the University of Toronto. Michael is a founder and the chair of the board of directors of Bad Science Watch. He is also the recipient of the first annual Barry Beyerstein Award for Skepticism. Follow Michael on twitter @anxiousmedic. Michael's musings are his own and do not necessarily represent those of his employer or Bad Science Watch.