Does the timing of media releases ever seem coordinated to you? Case in point: March 20, 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data showing the autism epidemic has reached terrifying levels, affecting 1 in 50 children and 1 in 31 boys between, age 6 and 18.1 Then on March 29th, CDC published a new study in the journal Pediatrics which concluded that vaccines don’t cause autism. The message: Autism continues to rise to alarming levels, we don’t know why, but it has nothing to do with vaccines. Whew. You can relax.2
Or what about the recent news releases about chicken pox. First there was a study published in Pediatrics (yes, same journal as before – go figure) on April 1, 2013 concluding that the chicken pox vaccine not only works in 90% of recipients but lasts for 14 years. This news was followed quickly by “news” on April 11th, that an unvaccinated healthy 15 year old girl had died from chicken pox. The message is very clear: the vaccine works and if you don’t give it to your child, they could die.
The strange thing about the tragic news of this girl’s death is that it happened in 2009.3 There is no mention of the fact that about 14 people die each year from chicken pox or whether they were vaccinated, but this one case from 4 years ago occurred in an unvaccinated person.4 There is no mention of the fact that a sizable portion of the study recipients had disease “break through”, a euphemism for vaccine failure. There is no mention that there have been over 54,000 reports of adverse events after administration of Merck’s Varivax to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), including 2500 classified as serious.5 To be clear, this is in no way intended to undermine the tragedy of this girl’s death, we are merely noting its use 4 years after the fact to possibly manipulate the public.
While we are discussing the chicken pox vaccine, we should mention that not everyone thought the study published in Pediatrics was very high quality. Gary Goldman has published research on the connection between rising levels of shingles and the chicken pox vaccine.6 He notes in his critique of this recent study that the chicken pox vaccine may not be as effective as it appears at this point for two reasons. Firstly, there were still large numbers of cases of wild chicken pox circulating from 1995 when the vaccine was first introduced until 2003/2004 meaning that the vaccine recipients were getting “boosters” by being around kids who had wild chicken pox. The other potential confounder is that from 2006 on, a second dose of the vaccine was given to children providing yet another booster. In line with Goldman’s previous published findings, he projects that the effectiveness of the chicken pox will fall to below 70% in the next few years.
Perhaps also worth commenting on is the idea that the chicken pox vaccine is a success because it allegedly lasts 14 years. Given that a real case of chicken pox generally confers life long immunity, shouldn’t that be the benchmark? In particular as if the vaccine does not last life long, it will require repeated vaccination and thus exposure to the potentially dangerous compounds the vaccine contains and perhaps more importantly, it will delay “breakthrough infections” till later in life when they are much more dangerous. Childhood diseases are far more benign when they happen in childhood.
Until another decade passes, we probably won’t know the true effectiveness of the chicken pox vaccine but in the meantime it probably makes sense to take at least some of what the media puts out with a great big pinch of salt.
As always you can check out much of this science on our website here.