Stories of adverse events from vaccines matter – explained @ConversationUS

Stories of vaccine-related harms are influential, even when people don’t believe them

Laura Scherer, University of Missouri-Columbia; Brian Zikmund-Fisher, University of Michigan; Niraj Patel, University of Missouri-Columbia, and Victoria Shaffer, University of Missouri-Columbia

In 2013 a boy who was given the HPV vaccine died almost two months later.

Two quick questions: First, does this worry you? And second, do you believe that the vaccine caused the boy’s death?

This is a real case reported in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS is monitored by health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration to detect very rare or emergent harms that may be caused by vaccines. The vast majority of adverse events reported in VAERS are mild (such as fever), but a few are serious, like death and permanent disabilities. Staff follow up on certain cases to better understand what happened.

A growing number of parents are refusing to vaccinate their children, and one reason they often state is that they do not trust that doctors and government agencies sufficiently research the potential harms of vaccines. Given that, we wanted to find out whether telling people about VAERS and the information it gathers could influence their beliefs about vaccine safety.

Vaccine refusal and the importance of trust

It’s important to stress that just because a case like the one mentioned above is reported to VAERS doesn’t mean that the vaccine caused the problem. That’s because VAERS is an open-access reporting system.

Health care providers are required to report certain adverse events, but they are not the only ones who can contribute to the database. Anyone can make a report in VAERS for any reason. Similarly, anyone can access VAERS reports and data. In fact, advocates both for and against vaccines refer to VAERS data as evidence of either the existence of harms or the rarity of harms.

This open-access feature makes VAERS a potentially rich source of information about possible vaccine-related harms. It also means, however, that the events reported in VAERS often turn out to have nothing to do with a vaccine.

Take for example, the boy who died less than two months after receiving the HPV vaccine. Here’s what the full VAERS report says: “Sudden death. He was perfectly healthy. The vaccination is the only thing I can think of that would have caused this. Everything else in his life was normal, the same.”

The fact that there were no reported problems for almost two months between the vaccine and the child’s death might make you, like us, skeptical that the vaccine was the cause. Yet, it is important that the death was reported so that it can be followed up.

Being transparent about risks is critical to building trust. In fact, that’s part of the reason that VAERS data is available to everyone.

Does VAERS make people trust vaccine safety?

It seems plausible that describing VAERS in depth could build trust. Doing so would demonstrate that every effort is being made to collect information about potential vaccine harms, and that even with such a comprehensive effort very few serious events are reported. Further, transparency would also show that these few serious events are not necessarily caused by the vaccine, and this information is available for anyone to view and evaluate.

We decided to test this idea in a recent internet survey. We surveyed over 1,200 people, who were divided into three groups.

One group received the standard CDC Vaccine Information Statement for the HPV vaccine. We chose the HPV vaccine because this vaccine is particularly underutilized. The second group was given detailed information about VAERS – what it is, what it is for and what it contains – as well as the number of serious adverse event reports received about HPV. To be specific, this group was told that there were seven deaths and 24 permanent disabilities reported for the HPV vaccine in 2013 out of a total of approximately 10 million vaccine doses given that year. A third group received all of that information and then also read the actual adverse event reports in detail. We hoped that reading these reports would show this group that not all of these deaths and permanent disabilities were caused by the vaccine.

We found that telling participants about VAERS, without having them read the actual reports, improved vaccine acceptance only very slightly. Even worse, when participants read the detailed reports, both vaccine acceptance and trust in the CDC’s conclusion that vaccines are safe declined significantly.

What we found next surprised us: The vast majority of our survey respondents, the same ones who were less accepting of vaccines and less trusting of the CDC, said that they believed the vaccine caused few or none of the reported deaths and disabilities. This means that the individual stories of perceived vaccine harms were highly influential, even when people didn’t believe they were true.

We are influenced by information even when we don’t believe it

Think back to your reaction to reading about the tragic death we described earlier. Our data suggest that just learning about this death may have caused you to feel more negatively toward the HPV vaccine, even if you believed that the vaccine did not cause the death.

While we can’t say that everyone reacted to the stories the same way or to the same degree, it seems clear that at least some people didn’t believe that the vaccine caused the reported harms, but they were nonetheless negatively influenced by those reports.

Systems like VAERS are essential for public health, providing an opportunity to learn about and investigate every possible case of potential harm caused by vaccines. But the power and emotion evoked by the stories of VAERS reports may influence us and undermine trust in vaccines, no matter what our rational mind might think.

The Conversation

Laura Scherer, Assistant Professor, Psychology, University of Missouri-Columbia; Brian Zikmund-Fisher, Associate Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan; Niraj Patel, Graduate Student, University of Missouri-Columbia, and Victoria Shaffer, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Missouri-Columbia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Anti-Science Quotable: Donald Trump on wind energy @factcheckdotorg

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In promoting his energy plan, Donald Trump made two false claims:

  • Trump said wind farms in the U.S. “kill more than 1 million birds a year.” Reliable data are scarce, but current mean estimates range from 20,000 to 573,000 bird deaths per year.
  • While discussing the number of eagles that are killed by wind turbines, Trump said that “if you shoot an eagle … they want to put you in jail for five years.” Actually, the maximum penalty is a one-year imprisonment.

On May 26, Trump held a press conference and then gave a speech in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he unveiled what he called an “America First” energy plan. In his press conference, Trump said he is “into all types of energy,” but he singled out wind energy as “a problem” because it kills eagles. In his speech, he also spoke generally about birds that are killed by wind farms.

Via SciCheck – who have featured science mis-statements from the Donald more than once recently. Check the SciCheck site for the full low-down on Trumps lies about wind energy.

Iowa Rep. Steve King’s claims on water quality get SciChecked – @factcheckdotorg

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SciCheck spills the scientific T on water quality data – and schools Rep. Steve King on his recent claims (including the snarky, but hilarious point that ‘bison’ is more scientifically accurate than ‘buffalo’).

During a recent congressional hearing, Rep. Steve King of Iowa underestimated what scientists know about the relationship between farming practices and water quality.

  • King said scientists don’t know about the quality of water in the U.S. “when the buffalo roamed” because there were “no water quality tests then.” Pre-1900 water quality data is relatively scarce, but experts can use techniques from paleolimnology to evaluate past water quality.
  • He implied that this lack of “baseline” data prevents scientists from knowing whether applications of crop fertilizer are “too much.” But experts say they don’t need 19th century data to know fertilizers have negatively impacted water quality. The 20th century provides plenty of evidence.

To start, the term “bison” is scientifically more accurate than “buffalo” when referring to North American populations.

Measles and Pertussis outbreaks tied to vaccine refusal @NIHDirector #science

Parents have a responsibility not only to their own children, but to their communities—it’s only by achieving a very high level of population immunity that outbreaks can be prevented. Vaccination is particularly crucial for children with cancer and other diseases that cause immunosuppression. They cannot be vaccinated safely, but are at high risk of severe consequences if they are infected—and, thus, they depend on the community’s so-called “herd immunity” for protection against a potentially fatal illness.

While some parents continue to express concern about a possible link between vaccines and autism spectrum disorders, the original report claiming this connection has been debunked and retracted.  A large number of carefully designed follow up studies have been carried out, and the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence shows no evidence for such a link. That’s why it continues to be so important to get the word out to parents: Have your kids vaccinated.

What is the deal with @NERCscience’s RSS #BoatyMcBoatface?? #NameOurShip

In case you haven’t heard, a research vessel being built in the UK to the tune of $290 billion, may be christened the RRS Boaty McBoatface after an online poll to name the ship went viral.

When scientists in the U.K. asked the public to name their new $290 million polar research ship, they expected the name of an explorer such as Sir Ernest Shackleton or a naturalist like David Attenborough to eventually be emblazoned across the vessel’s bow.

However, they didn’t factor in the Brits’ oddball sense of humor

By 9 a.m. Monday (5 a.m. ET), more than 27,000 people had voted to name the ship “RRS Boaty McBoatface.”

The poll was launched Thursday by the National Environment Research Council, the government-funded body building the ship in Cammell Laird shipyard, near Liverpool.

The ship itself is amazing, and we look forward to the science that will come from its missions. However, we also can’t stop laughing at the potential future name of the ship. While it poses a conundrum for NERC, it has also resulted in TONS of press for the organization and its new ship!!

The name Boaty McBoatface was suggested by James Hand, who has since apologized for causing trouble on the poll, but refuses to deny the awesomeness of the name he submitted!!

Top 6 #GMO news stories from @GeneticLiteracy #GLPTop6!

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  1. Moms Across America claims GM salmon not kosher, but Jewish law, tradition say otherwise by Stephan Neidenbach

  2. Cellular clock may help improve cancer treatment, forensic science by Nicholas Staropoli

  3. Genetic engineering in Africa: Part 1: Bananas and Cassavas  || Part 2: Cautious embrace of biotechnology by Steven Cerier

  4. Enviro activists reject synbio solution for Indonesian palm oil-orangutan crisis by Nicholas Staropoli

  5. Life without allergies? Detecting genetically-based food allergies at birth by Meredith Knight

  6. Knowledge of genetic risks from personal DNA tests may not help in changing behavior by Arvind Suresh

House Science Committee and Chair Lamar Smith should focus on science, not politics #climate @NOAA

lamarChairman of House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Lamar Smith thinks that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should focus on studying weather patterns rather than climate. Lamar Smith stated this, and a lot of misinformation, at a budget hearing for NOAA this week. Clearly Lamar Smith has failed Earth Science 101. While climate and weather are not the same thing, climate change can heavily influence weather patterns, and has been linked more and more strongly to EXTREME weather events.

“Instead of hyping a climate change agenda, NOAA should focus its efforts on producing sound science and improving methods of data collection,” said Smith. “NOAA should prioritize areas of research that significantly impact Americans today, such as ways to improve weather forecasting. Unfortunately, climate alarmism often takes priority at NOAA.”

Kathryn Sullivan, head of NOAA responded to Smith:

“NOAA forecasts help communities prepare and respond to weather events, including the severe storms that swept through Texas last year, tornado events across the mid-west and Florida, and the recent winter storm that struck the Northeast,” writes Dr. Sullivan in her statement. “But the greater demand for our services goes beyond just extreme weather.”

But perhaps the best response came from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson:

“It is clear to me that this investigation is unfounded, and it is being driven by ideology and other agendas,” says Johnson. “The majority has asserted, without offering any credible evidence, that NOAA and the climate science community at large are part of some grand conspiracy to falsify data in support of the significant role humans play in climate change. However, the overwhelming body of scientific evidence across many different fields has shown that this is not the case.”

In our opinion, Lamar Smith and the House Science Committee are an embarrassment to the American people, and the amazing science that is done here. It is very sad that NOAA and NOAA scientists are constantly being harassed by this political entity. (Check out @HouseAntiScienc on twitter)

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