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Don’t Fly Delta: Airline Runs Anti-Vaccine Videos Against Medical Advice

I’ve been following the recent Delta airlines flu vaccine kerfuffle with interest and now amazement. After running in-flight infomercials by a notorious anti-vaccine group (NVIC), the American Academy of Pediatrics alerted Delta to the faux pas with a letter from president Robert W. Block, M.D. I had assumed that Delta would be grateful for the head’s up, and would immediately remove the infomercials. Instead, they chose to ignore the letter, denying that they saw any harm in associating themselves with anti-vaccine activists. Despite the warning, they will continue to run the ads through the month of November.

Every year the influenza virus kills as many as 49,000 Americans and 500,000 individuals world-wide. According to the CDC, the best defense against these often preventable deaths is the influenza vaccine. Since viral spread is especially likely in closed quarters where air from infected individuals is recirculated (such as in an airplane) it is critical for extra precautions to be taken before and during air travel. In addition to yearly flu vaccination, the use of alcohol-based hand wipes, regular hand washing, covering one’s mouth during coughing, are recommended. Since the flu virus can live in droplets outside the body for up to 48 hours, door knobs, seat covers and tray tables can spread the virus from passengers on previous flights.

I don’t understand why Delta, Read more »

More Evidence Of The Safety And Effectiveness Of Vaccines

One of the basic human “needs” is the desire for simplicity. We have limited cognitive resources, and when we feel overwhelmed by complexity one adaptive strategy is to simplify things in our mind. This can be useful as long as we know we are oversimplifying. Problems arise when we mistake our schematic version with reality.

In this same vein we also like our narratives to be morally simple, so there is a tendency to replace the complex shades of gray with black and white. This is perhaps related to cognitive dissonance theory. We have a hard time reconciling how someone can be both good and bad, or how a good person can do bad things. So there is also a tendency to see people as all good or all bad. We can transcend these tendencies with maturity and wisdom, but that takes work.

A good example of the desire for simple moral clarity is the anti-vaccine movement. Their world is comprised of white hats and black hats (guess which one they perceive themselves as wearing), as evidenced by the blog posts and comments over at Age of Autism. There is a certain demand for purity of thought and message that seems to be getting worse over time in a self-reinforcing subculture. Many now see their struggle in apocalyptic terms.

The desire for simplicity even extends to factual claims. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Book Review: “Deadly Choices: How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All”

A friend suggested she was tired of hearing about vaccines. Her comment and our subsequent conversation seemed to reflect an important shift in parent sentiment: The conversation about vaccines is beginning to get somewhere.

While much of this was born of the mainstream media’s newfound realization that the vaccine-autism connection was cooked, some of this is due to the tireless work of those like the Children’s Hospital of Philedelphia’s Dr. Paul Offit who get the story right.

As part of his passionate agenda to expose vaccine truths, he’s published “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-vaccine Movement Threatens Us All” (Basic Books, 2011). For those looking to understand the origins of anti-vaccine sentiment, read this book.

What struck me is the deep history behind the anti-vaccine movement. From Jenner’s smallpox fix to modern-day MMR struggles, Offit draws fascinating corollaries surrounding immunization that seem to defy the generations. Vaccine resistance was not born of Andrew Wakefield, but broader concerns rooted in religion, individual liberty, fear and propaganda. ”Deadly Choices” puts the anti-vaccine movement in a historic sequence that reads like good suspense. I couldn’t put it down. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

The Slippery Slope Of Anti-Vaccine Complacency

I got a package in the mail today: My very own (complimentary) copy of Paul Offit’s new book, “Deadly Choices; How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All.” Needless to say, I can’t wait to read it. Not coincidentally, Dr. Offit has been making the rounds of interviews in the wake of the book’s release. Although I haven’t heard any of them directly, I did see a reference to this NPR interview on the FaceBook page of an old friend, who quoted from it thusly:

IRA FLATOW:  You write that some pediatricians will not see kids who are not vaccinated. Is that a good solution to the problem?

DR. PAUL OFFIT: I don’t know what’s a good solution to that problem. And I feel tremendous sympathy for the clinician who’s in private practice. On the one hand, and my wife sort of expressed this, she’s a general practitioner, a pediatrician, you know, she’ll say, you know, parents will come into her office and say I don’t want to get vaccines, including, for example, the Haemophilus influenzae vaccine, which is vaccine that prevents what was, at one point, a very common cause of bacterial meningitis.

And, you know, we’ve had three cases or three deaths, actually, from this particular bacterial form of meningitis in the Philadelphia area just in the last couple years.

And, you know, to her, it’s like, you know, let me love your child. Please don’t put me in a position where I have to practice substandard care, which can result in harm, which can hurt your child. Please don’t ask me to do that.

And I certainly understand the sentiment. On the other hand, if you don’t see that child, you know, where does that child go? Do they go to a chiropractor who doesn’t vaccinate?

I think it’s hard because then you lose any chance to really immunize the child.

My friend then offers his take, that of a pediatrician in private practice. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*

Influenza: It’s Not “Just The Flu”

One of our readers suggested that I review the book The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, by John M. Barry. It’s not a new book (it was published in 2004) but it is very pertinent to several of the issues that we have been discussing on this blog, especially in regards to the current anti-vaccine movement. It’s well worth reading for its historical insights, for its illumination of the scientific method, and for its accurate reporting of what science has learned about influenza.

In the great flu epidemic of 1918, influenza killed as many people in 24 weeks as AIDS has killed in 24 years. It’s hard to even imagine what that must have been like, but this book helps us imagine it. It tells horror stories: Children found alone and starving beside the corpses of their parents in homes where all the adults had died, decomposing bodies piling up because there was no one left who was healthy enough to bury them.

Sometimes the disease developed with stunning rapidity: During one three-mile streetcar trip, the conductor, three passengers, and the driver died. In another incident, apparently healthy soldiers were being transferred to a new post by train: During the trip, men started coughing, bleeding, and collapsing; and by the time it arrived at its destination, 25 percent of the soldiers were so sick they had to be taken directly from train to hospital. Two-thirds of them were eventually hospitalized in all, and 10 percent of them died. The mind boggles. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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