he’s gotta have his dip-tet, honey

10/29/09

Tessa turned me on to a great cover story on WIRED this month all about the “epidemic of fear” some parents have about vaccines, and needless to say, it is totally one-sided and totally awesome. I’m particularly glad that the piece’s author, Amy Wallace, takes Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey to the woodshed for their hopelessly ignorant – and dangerous – assertions about vaccines and autism.

I know I’ve yammered about this before (and recently) but this has the potential to become a very big deal if the anti-vax movement grows any stronger. Your kids and, well, you are going to find some scary shit coming down the pike as America loses its herd immunity, and suddenly breathing inside an airplane will conjure measles and rotaviruses. The H1N1 flu – while deadly to pregnant women and kids under two – will probably not be the pandemic they write books about, but everyone’s “no thanks” reaction to the vaccine speaks ill of the next big mutation.

You can bet your sweet ass that I’m getting the swine flu vaccine if I can – so would Tessa, and my daughter. I’d get TWO of them if I thought it’d work better. In fact, if they made a Swine Flu Extra Grande Latté with Weakened Tetanus Coconut Flakes, I’d get that motherfucker too.

There’s a delicious quote from Carl Sagan in the article that puts the anti-vax hysteria into human terms: “A great many of these belief systems address real human needs that are not being met by our society.” In other words, our current American lives leave us with a helplessness, or a lack of community, that is filled by the belief of the irrational.

Interestingly, that idea has helped me understand more about the teabaggers, the birthers, the town-hall crazies and the odd enclaves of American wingnutters that strike us progressives as irredeemably stupid. It may not be so much about the topic itself (abortion, taxes, Obama etc.) and more about the subconscious joy you get by being part of something bigger. Certainly I felt it in Washington D.C. when we went to the inauguration. I imagine it must feel good to some people to make a sign saying “OBAMA IS A FASHIST AND I BROT MY GUN” and commiserate with their idealogues, even if it makes me want to ralph.

I guess it’s fine for parents not to vaccinate their kids, as long as they keep them locked in their houses, and away from schools, markets, airplanes, my family, playgrounds and restaurants. After all, there’s seven times more mercury in a tuna sandwich than a vaccine, and I’d hate for their kids to accidentally eat one. Oh yeah, even though there are barely any vaccines left that have mercury. Oh, and even though six separate independent studies showed that mercury had nothing to do with autism.

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26 thoughts on “he’s gotta have his dip-tet, honey

  1. ken

    There’s quite a shortage of H1N1 vaccine here in the Chicago area which scares me since we have a seven month old daughter. Fortunately, my wife works from home, I have limited exposure with my co-workers and our daughter doesn’t go to daycare since she looked after at home. You can bet once they’re readily available, we’ll all be getting the vaccines, though.
    That said, the Birthers scare me so much more than the anti-vaccine camp. To see them (the Birthers) flatly deny what is undeniable is like the holocaust-deniers and flat-earth believers of yore, whereas the science of vaccines is a bit more inexact. People have died or fallen ill from vaccines.

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  2. Julie

    I just wish we could get the vaccine already (Richmond, VA). My pediatrician’s office has yet to get any. So frustrating!!

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  3. Claverack Weekender

    Much of the world’s overcapacity problems could be solved by a good pandemic a la the Spanish flu. You should be fine with people not protecting themselves, especially if they are conservatives, elderly, undereducated, SUV-driving, devout, or otherwise unproductive members of society. If you insist on keeping these people alive, we at least need a better governing class that can tame the bewildered herd into trusting our medical-industrial complex. I wish Walter Lippman and Edward Bernays were still alive.

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  4. Brad

    I’m sick as balls here and reading about the vaccine just makes me hungry for it.
    And I think Kurt Vonnegut wrote about the loss of and an overwhelming need for an extended family. Being a lunatic seems to provide that and I can’t imagine it’s that difficult.

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  5. Lee

    i’ve been begging my doc for H1N1 vaccine b/c i’m on steroids and my immune system is compromised from it. no dice but my 3 year old got hers.
    now, i’ve had a cough since tuesday and nobody wants me around the office for fears i have it. wouldn’t i have a fever, too??
    Sigh, too.

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  6. CM

    I think there’s a shortage of the pig shot all over.
    I bought the Rogue flashlight from a full-page ad in that issue of Wired for $50…geez, I shouldn’t be such an impulse buyer, but it looked so cool.

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  7. Joanna

    Lock jaw and night vision.
    After Sean’s reply to me last week, I’m glad you brought this up. My children have received all vaccines, so I wasn’t sure where Sean was coming from with the thimerosal-doesn’t-cause-autism argument directed at me. Perhaps I’m the one who confused the conversation by straying from the topic.
    As I explained in a reply no one likely read, my husband’s work with the FDA in prescription drug safety has ironically left us both somewhat skeptical of prescription drugs, particularly those without a long track record. We’re also more open to the idea that naturally occurring compounds, the molecular structure of which is often altered slightly, but not inconsequentially, so it may be patented, are worth exploring. Turmeric, for example, is a naturally occurring COX-2 inhibitor, that’s a heck of a lot safer than Vioxx. St John’s Wort, which is thought to act with properties of both an MAOI and SSRI, is the most prescribed treatment for mild depression in Germany. My own M.D. says, “It’s the same as Zoloft, just milder.”
    Not everyone who questions mainstream medical is knee jerk. Not every herbal remedy is “ridiculous” (quoting Sean, not Ian). I favor scrutinizing and researching each drug we take. My son is on a daily prescription medication, but didn’t start it until my biochemist husband read all of the relevant journal articles. I also favor considering all options for safe treatment. I recently popped prescription pain pills, just to survive until I could see my acupuncturist who offered the long term solution.

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  8. josie

    Regarding the H1N1 controversy, the ped says 90 children have died in FL from H1N1 (!!!), and none have died from the vaccine. Seems to be a no-brainer there.

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  9. Tessa

    I brought the article to Ian because I think it’s really important to engage this debate, factually. But I don’t think the piece really matures the discussion. It’s as dismissive of the anti-vax folks as they are paranoid about corporate medicine.
    There are two concerns I wish Wallace had dealt with.
    First, she doesn’t produce any statistical science around the question of whether there *is* an autism epidemic. She touches on it but there is a bigger question to engage. The conventional wisdom in medical circles has been that the alleged spike in autism came with a change in diagnostic terms – from general “mental retardation” to, in some cases, “autism” – as well as a more sensitive diagnostic model that is catching kids who might have slipped through before. But the numbers have continued to grow, challenging the conventional wisdom. The first question that Wallace might have engaged… is autism on the rise? And, if so, what the hell is causing it? There have been interesting studies that point to a link between premature birth and autism, to genetic triggers and autism – lots of worthwhile science to explore, even a little bit.
    Second, she doesn’t respectfully address the realities of the lives of families coping with autism. It’s a massive spectrum from kids who are almost non-functional to kids who will live full, productive lives. It’s not a death sentence but it can profoundly stretch the emotional and financial resources of a family. But – as an autistic scientist recently said – if we rid the world of autism, we may also rid it of musical and scientific genius. And that makes all of this a very complex conversation.
    I thought the piece was a little bit a of a playground snub. I would like for this conversation to advance beyond one camp thinking that the medical-industrial complex is preying on children and the other camp thinking all families seeking an answer are idiotic lemmings following more idiotic celebrities.

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  10. Tessa

    Wait. I have more stuff to say…
    I know this is a shocking (coming from such a hopeless liberal) but, pharmaceutical science is not all bad.
    The profit model may well be a problem but the science itself – while not nearly as sexy as research science – is an important component in the treatment (and sometimes, cures) of disease.
    It’s not an area of science that researchers are interested in doing and it hasn’t proven to be such a great area for the government to engage. Because it takes a lot of resources of personnel, space, equipment, hours – it seems to work best if there’s a profit motive. If, after all of that infrastructural investment, there is the hope for recoupment and beyond.
    Take ALS for example. Because there’s not a big enough population diagnosed with ALS, and because those patients don’t live long enough after diagnosis (and therefore would never return the investment even if drugs were found), there’s not a pharmaceutical component to ALS research. Which has slowed the overall progress of finding solutions.
    That’s a great example of where the repetitive research of pharmaceutical companies could come in really handy but where capitalism is in the way.
    And, certainly, we’ve had manifold examples of corporate irresponsibility, which is far more egregious when you’re dealing with people’s health than when you’re dealing with their portfolio.
    And, to concede further, science – even good, rigorous, intelligently-guided science has just been flat wrong. HRT and heart disease, for example.
    But the idea that there’s some guy twirling his mustache and delighting at the snake oil he’s selling, is misguided. And I do think Wallace did a nice job articulating that.

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  11. Ehren

    Ian, did we read the same thing recently (salon? thisrecording? nytimes?) about the research that’s been done on people who join radical movements, particularly right wing movements? I wish I could remember it without butchering it, but it was basically about certain people tend to want to turn control of their lives over to someone else when they find that they are unable (due to difficult economic times or just a too-rapidly changing envirnoment) to manage on their own. It was interesting, at least more interesting than I make it sound. And they were talking about more radical right wing movements like Nazis, fascists, and the Taliban than the birthers and tea baggers.

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  12. Ian

    Joanna, I don’t think Sean was going after you personally, but even so, just remember he and I are very similar: blowhard assholes in print, but gregarious and deferential at the dinner table. He also makes really good dessert.
    As for St. John’s Wort… that’s a whole nother blog…

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  13. Rebecca

    Regarding the flu shots, I find it interesting that some people are choosing to do the regular shot, but not the H1N1 shot. The way I understand it (and please correct me if I’m wrong) flu shot is formulated to fight the strain (or strains)that are “most likely” to be going around that year. It changes each year. Now we have a particular strain that is rampant, and we have a vaccine to fight it. So why would you choose to get one and not the other?

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  14. jje

    You should see the freakout and debate going on on my local mommyboard right now over this Very Special Episode of Sid the Science Kid, sponsored by the USGOVHHS:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNHeV-9dPCs
    I’d describe myself mainstream with a side of crunchy – opting for organic when possible, extended baby wearing and nursing, attachment style parenting, fully vaxing but preferring to delay or split (except that I totally caved when my ped and husband put full court pressure on me). I was educated at Carolina like many of you, so I don’t think I’m the village idiot here when I say we did the seasonal, but I’m waffling a little on the H1N1. Just a little, okay? If the opportunity presents itself, we’ll most likely get it. And I’ll still probably quietly worry and wonder if I made the right decision for my boys.
    And the thing is, I KNOW the people you’re talking about – the anti-ALL vaxers and/or the anti-seasonal and/or H1N1 flu vaxers. Some of them aren’t the most educated people in the world (these are typically the ones homeschooling their children – don’t get me started on women who can barely post a well-spelled sentence) and sure, there’s a lot of bizarre paranoia going on in their worlds. I could tell you some stories…
    But a lot of them are not only well-educated, like my friend the Georgia Tech grad and Harvard MBA, but also well-connected to people in the medical and scientific worlds. These are the people who are doing the research and can back it up if challenged. I find it pretty hard to fault them if they opt out. (See Joanna above…)
    I’m exposed on a daily basis to well over 3,000 wildly different women and their parenting styles and beliefs, right here in très mainstream Charlotte, and frankly, I barely bat an eye anymore.
    At any rate, I’m having to wear a mask at the hospital now until I can get the seasonal flu shot (I assume that will be the case for the H1N1 when they finally offer it to us), which sucks rocks. I had no idea how hard it was to communicate fully with a kid until I put that awful thing on. I went to get the shot yesterday morning at the hospital clinic and all they have left was the mist. I was fine with that except that I couldn’t get it because I’m still nursing. So I’m on the hunt for the real deal…

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  15. MarkC

    I know this is your blog and all, but I think I need to speak up here on the vaccine issue. While I am not going to take the advice of Jenny McCarthy or Jim Carrey about vaccines, I am not going to take your advice either because, like them, I don’t get the sense that you have much of a scientific research background (most MDs don’t either so don’t feel bad). The plan and simple truth is that we don’t really know what the long term impacts of vaccine programs are the human body because no one has studied the long term impacts. Vaccines are studied for adverse impacts over about a three month window, so long term effects are not really known by anyone (including your doctor or the CDC).
    Now clearly vaccines have done wonders in eliminating or nearly eliminating so pretty scary diseases, and the cost benefit ratio is pretty clearly in favor of vaccines, even if there turn out to be some negative longer term effects. On the other hand, my state (or Commonwealth to be technically accurate) requires vaccines against the chicken poxes. This is where I want to say wait a minute, we are talking about a pretty mild childhood disease here, now I am not so sure about the cost benefit calculation, particularly since you have not bothered to look for potential long term impacts. Since chicken poxes is really only dangerous to adults, why not wait on the vaccine until the child approaches adulthood and has not had the chicken poxes before vaccination? That seems fairly rational to me, correct me if I am wrong.
    The bottom-line is that there is frustratingly little information on the long term impacts of vaccines, which leads to imaginations running wild across the spectrum of “debate.” My problem here is that it is an incredibly ill informed debate on all sides since we lack data, add into the mix that we are talking about children’s welfare here, and no wonder it devolves into name calling faster than Rush Limbaugh on speed. As the chief of medicine at Sacred Heart said to JD, “You cannot find problems if you don’t look for them. So stop looking.” As a researcher I actually think we need to look, and the CDC needs to get out of the pocket of Big Pharma, who has no interest in studying this topic, and do the research so that we can have an informed debate on matter. My bias is towards actually doing the research before claiming that we know the answer to a question. It seems like a better approach than lining up dim witted celebrities to “debate” the issue, I mean seriously, how dumb are we as a people if we care what they think about anything?

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  16. Sarah

    The H1N1 vaccine is made in the same way as the annual seasonal flu vaccine. Therefore, despite no “long-term” testing of particular variation of the vaccine, there is no reason not to get it. The seasonal flu has been around for how long? Consider that testing enough.
    Rebecca — yes, the seasonal vaccine is developed by scientists who pick the strains that they think will be problematic. They look at strains that are infectious in Asia and Australia/NZ, because our flu typically comes from there. The H1N1 vaccine specifically targets THIS H1N1 strain (no guessing involved) so it is probably more effective than the seasonal vaccine (although once the seasonal flu season starts up, it should be easy to determine if the ‘guesses’ were correct).
    Also, the injected seasonal flu vaccine (and H1N1 vaccine) only include the coat proteins for the virus. The idea is to develop an immune response and antibodies against those proteins, so that if/when one is exposed to it at a later date, your body can fight it before it gets out of hand. There is absolutely no RNA in the vaccine, therefore it is impossible to get the flu from the vaccine.

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  17. Rebecca

    MarkC: The elimination of chicken pox will lead to the elimination of shingles, a potentially very painful adult disease that only affects people who have had chicken pox as children. My husband just had shingles, and it was itchy and painful for almost 30 days.
    Thank you Sarah for validating my statement!
    JJE: The homeschoolers certainly seem like an uninformed bunch, don’t they? Their poor children – I wonder if they will be able to go to college.

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  18. jje

    Fine, I get the sarcasm, but you misunderstood me (purposefully or, not, I’m not quite sure). My Harvard friend is actually homeschooling – her children will get in ANYWHERE. I often beg her to homeschool my children. I’m talking about the specific ones who present themselves as barely literate and seem to think they can teach anything anything without a high school diploma.
    And that was so not my point. But have a great day!

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  19. jje

    One anything.
    And I reread my post to make sure I was clear and I did indeed say “some.” Not all. I’m not against homeschooling. Whatever floats your boat. But I am going to make fun of you if it looks like you’re probably doing it poorly.
    I might surf into their forum and see if I can find you a good example.

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  20. Rebecca

    JJE: Ummm.. this is what happens when I comment on the fly. I’m like a drive-by shooter spraying bullets! I really apologize for being a poor writer. (I think I’ve done this here before, so far Ian hasn’t banned me, which I appreciate.) Sorry, in real life I’m actually a fairly nice person.
    BUT, I was actually not being sarcastic at all. I was serious! My neighbor who has 6 kids homeschools them all, and last year her 3rd grader was doing a “science” project called “God Controls the Weather”. So, according to her child, God makes a conscious decision to have a hurricane, flood or tornado. I AM NOT KIDDING. So, how the hell can that child get into college? Seriously? And her little “homeschooling network” is a group-think Christian club, where they all commend each other for doing such a good job schooling their kids. Going to the zoo for the day? CHECK! School done.
    Again, my apologies for upsettin you.

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  21. jje

    No, I owe you the apology. It’s been a long week on the homefront (I’m a SAHM) and it was silly for me to get so cranky. Seriously, I’m normally a nice person, too. :-)
    And we are definitely on the same page.

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  22. eric g.

    I don’t have children, but I found the article and this debate very interesting. I think the rise in diagnosed cases of autism is alarming, but I, like Tessa, wish that the article had engaged the topic in a more thorough manner.
    By the way, it was great to hear your views, Tessa! Please consider commenting more often.
    Eric

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  23. kjf

    it really just is shocking that people in this country are shunning vaccines when organizations like the gates foundation spends gazillions of dollars to immunize kids for a whole host of things in other lands. a real head scratcher.
    my granddaughter is due in two weeks and my daughter in law just got her H1N1 shot. and the rest of us who already love that child have gotten our seasonal flu shots and will line up for the H1N1 when it’s our turn.
    but what really boggles my mind is how people are taking medical advice from jenny mccarthy and suzanne somers and saying poo poo to scientists and doctors. bizarro world.

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  24. Joanna

    Rebecca, your “God Controls the Weather” story is the funniest thing I’ve heard all day!
    Ian, before you take on St. John’s Wort, I should clarify that I wasn’t suggesting it replace other, more potent antidepressants. It wasn’t a good example of natural being preferable to synthetic. Just an example of herbal not being ridiculous.

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  25. Salem

    We have not been able to get the H1N1 vaccine yet. Those that have it are still restricting vaccinations to the highest risk groups, which is best. I was starting to buy into the H1N1 vaccine paranoia, until yesterday.
    My healthy 18 year old daughter went from healthy to hospitalized within 24 hours of her first symptoms of the H1N1 virus. This flu hit her like a freight train, if she had tried to sleep this off, with motrin and cough syrup, she could have put her life at risk. She was almost paralyzed by dehydration and nausea. Without iv fluids and oxygen treatments, I fear the consequences would have been disastrous. Don’t underestimate the power of this virus.

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  26. Neva

    On no, Salem, I’m so sorry. Hope she’s getting better quickly.
    We were just able to get our youngest daughter vaccinated which was a big relief.

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  27. Neva

    St. John’s Wort – Ian, I couldn’t wait.
    Just because something is natural and may have beneficial effects does not make it safe.
    I think to call it “zoloft lite” is irresponsible. It does not work as a pure SSRI and actually has some more dangerous side effects when mixed with other medications.
    This is my biggest concern about the interest in “natural” meds is the false conclusion that somehow they are “safer”. Lots of things are natural and still very unsafe. The same people who are worried about the safety medications that go through testing by the FDA (vaccines for instance) seem to have no problem with taking something pulled out of the ground and put into a capsule with no testing or regulation. Does that make any sense?
    Herbal therapies very well may work but they should be tested and regulated before we prescribe them willy nilly.
    As far as turmeric goes. It’s probably very safe – especially when used in Indian dishes. But, I had a patient take it in giant quantities for it’s so called “safe” antioxidant properties and end up with a horrible allergic reaction and an overnight stay at Duke..
    Herbs are drugs – they just aren’t don’t drug companies money so they haven’t been tested or marketed as Rx drugs are.

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  28. kjf

    neva – i always enjoy reading your perspective on all things medical. just the right balance. your patients are lucky!

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  29. Joanna

    I’m actually with you, Neva, on wishing there was more U.S. testing and regulation of herbal therapies. It’s terribly frustrating to me that just because there’s no profit to be made, there’s less interest in research.
    In Europe, St. John’s Wort is only available by prescription and there are certainly many German studies to support its efficacy, as well as document drug interactions. I discuss herbs with my medical doctor and do my best to find herb brands with good quality control. I know this probably isn’t the norm and agree that it’s dangerous that consumers are popping potentially potent drugs without guidance.
    As for the turmeric, my doctor (different from the one with the Zoloft comment) who did her residency at UNC, but also has a background in Chinese medicine, prescribed 1000 mg./day.
    Now, I’m going to try to get really crunchy on you and adopt the defenselessness component of the Law of Least Effort, relinquishing the need to convince or persuade others of my point of view. I don’t think you’ll hear from me on this subject again.

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  30. Neva

    Thanks kjf, that’s sweet to say.
    Joanna, I think you and I are basically in agreement. I would love to be able to use some of these herbal agents with certainty but I’m afraid of the safety of many of them to really all out “recommend” them. For better or worse, I have to rely on the system our country has established to decide what meds are safe to use and I have developed some trust in that system. That doesn’t mean I jump to prescribe the newest thing that the FDA approves without thinking it through well though. I once heard a doctor say that they never like to be the first or the last person to Rx a medication. I liked that one.
    Do you live in Chapel Hill? Just wondering b/c if so, I think I know your doctor.

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  31. Joanna

    Yes, Neva, I’m in Chapel Hill. Thanks for your note. Agreement feels good. At the end of law school, I took an interest assessment which confirmed I’m averse to conflict. Needless to say, my career decision was of my most misguided. I could never do what Ian does.

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  32. Ian

    “I could never do what Ian does.”
    Joanna, I think you’d find that spouting barely-baked theories and brazening them through with profanity is a lot easier than it looks.

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  33. Neva

    Ian, you never stop making me laugh! Hope you have some good Halloween photos for us tomorrow.
    Joanna, your doctor was in residency with me. Tell her I said Hi. We almost worked together recently.

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  34. Joanna

    Ian, I had to read your comment twice to realize you weren’t writing about baking sprouted barley. I’m just assuming you get some sort of charge out of arguing, whereas it leaves me slightly nauseous.
    Small town, Neva. I’ll say Hi from you!

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