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.

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.

Vaccine refresher for Republican candidates – Jessie Schanzle @US_Conversation

Vaccines back in the headlines – here’s what the experts say

Jessie Schanzle, The Conversation

September 16th’s Republican debate put vaccines back in the headlines, when Ben Carson, a former neurosurgeon, was asked to comment on Donald Trump’s statements linking vaccinations to autism. Carson said:

We have extremely well-documented proof that there is no autism associated with vaccinations, but it is true that we’re giving way too many in way too short a time and a lot of pediatricians recognize that.

This has sparked a flurry of reminders from physicians, scientists and others that vaccines are safe and that vaccines do not cause autism.

This is a discussion that we have covered again and again and again at The Conversation.

Yet these messages don’t seem to have counteracted misinformation about vaccines. That’s because these explanations often repeat the very falsehoods they are trying to correct. As Norbert Schwarz and Eryn Newman from the University of Southern California write:

[M]edia reports that intend to correct false information can have the unfortunate effect of increasing its acceptance. Using anecdotes and images makes false information easier to imagine – and by highlighting disagreement, they distort the amount of consensus that actually exists.

A better strategy, they say, is to stick to the facts.

Kristin S Hendrix, a professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, examined the research on parent-provider conversation about vaccines. She writes:

What is clear from existing research is that respectful, tailored communications and recommendations to immunize coming directly from the health-care provider are associated with increased vaccination uptake.

Before the measles vaccine was introduced in the US in the 1960s, we thought of measles as a “mild” illness, even though it killed 400-500 Americans a year. Today, suggesting that measles is benign is controversial. And that is because vaccines change how we think about the disease they prevent. As Emory historian Elena Conis writes:

Vaccines shine a spotlight on their target infections and, in time, those infections – no matter how “common” or relatively unimportant they may have seemed before – become known for their rare and serious complications and defined by the urgency of their prevention.

Marcel Salathé, now a professor at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, points out everyone who can be vaccinated, should be vaccinated, to help protect those who are too young or too ill to receive the vaccine. Tony Yang, a professor of health administration at George Mason University, looked at the impact vaccine exemption polices have on outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. And Michael Mina, an MD/PhD candidate at Emory, explained how the introduction of the measles vaccine in Europe prevented deaths from other diseases.

Speaking of other diseases, just over a year ago, news that a handful of people in the United States had contracted Ebola was dominating the headlines. William Moss, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, pointed out that Americans should worry less about Ebola and more about the measles.

The Conversation

Jessie Schanzle, Editor, The Conversation

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

US vaccine researcher gets prison time for blatantly faking data – #misconduct #science

In my personal opinion, the prison sentence for Dong-Pyou Han accurately punishes his blatant faking of data and disregard for science as a whole.

A former Iowa State University scientist was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for altering blood samples to make it seem like he’d achieved a breakthrough in creating an HIV vaccine.

Dong-Pyou Han will receive prison time for making false statements in research reports and will have to pay back $7.2 million to the government agency that funded his research. He entered a plea agreement in February admitting guilt in two counts of making false statements.

Han’s made up data wasted A LOT of tax-payer funding, and took money and time away from other REAL HIV vaccine research. Thus holding up a much needed vaccine for his personal ‘gain.’ Let this serve as a lesson to researchers that misconduct and fraud will be punished accordingly. There is no place for this type of fraud in science (especially when there are anti-science groups waiting for any type of ammunition against science and vaccines).

More info here from Nature if you have access.

Jim Carrey throws anti-science twitter tantrum against California’s new vaccination law, makes fool of himself #science #irony

Earlier this week California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a contentious, but scientifically supported, bill enforcing strict school vaccination requirements!!! Following the signing, Jim Carrrey went on a rant on twitter raging against the bill.

Carrey claims that he’s not anti-vaccine, just anti- ‘toxins’ in vaccines. Too bad the science behind these compounds being ‘toxins’ is about as good as the science showing that vaccines cause autism (hint- its not good science). Apparently no one ever sent Jim Carrey this meme showing the basic chemistry difference between mercury and a mercury containing compound. #SCIENCE

Carrey can claim that he isn’t anti-vaccine, but he is still clearly misinformed when it comes to vaccines and science.

Lastly, Carrey included a picture in one of his anti-‘toxin’ tweets (below, the picture has been removed by twitter).

Turns out that the boy actually suffers from the disease Tuberous sclerosis, which has nothing to do with vaccines, but IS associated with autism. The boys mother couldn’t be more annoyed that her son’s image was misused by Carrey in such a way.

“Jim Carrey has a huge platform — a huge following — and is misrepresenting my son’s image by attaching it to his anti-vax rant,” Alex’s mother, Karen Echols, told BuzzFeed News by email.

Alex was born with a genetic syndrome called tuberous sclerosis, or TSC, which causes benign tumors to grow all over the body, including the brain. Many children with TSC have autism, including Alex.

Alex’s photo was removed from Carrey’s tweet on Wednesday night after Echols filed a copyright complaint to Twitter. (Echols’ first-ever tweet was to Carrey asking him to take the picture down.) The tweet had already been retweeted nearly 600 times.

Echols first found out about Carrey’s tweet when her brother-in-law posted it to her Facebook wall.​ Her sister, Elizabeth Welch, is also upset about Carrey using the photo out of context. “It kind of felt like he was mocking [Alex], and that’s what was upsetting,” Welch told BuzzFeed News.

“I’m very disgusted and sickened that a celebrity would use a photo like this that was used in the first place to spread awareness of Tuberous Sclerosis to mock him and and my sister for vaccinations,” Welch wrote. “Even if that was not his intended outcome, it is what happened.”

Apparently the hilarious, but scientifically misinformed, actor hasn’t learned the vaccines-cause-autism-etc-lesson from ex-wife Jenny McCarthy. Yikes!

#Science Quotable: Todd Pittinsky – America lacks faith in science #Scicomm

Fifty-three percent of Americans are not convinced that human activity is causing global warming (1). Why? The issue is faith, not facts.

We cannot see climate change with our own eyes, yet we (scientists) have faith in the scientific method. That is what gives science the right to an authoritative voice in public policy.

The real challenge for scientists and those who speak for them is to inspire the public’s faith in science.

Scientists do not typically think it is their business to inspire faith. Their job is to provide facts. But to solve the pressing problems that require public acceptance of well-established science—from global warming to vaccinations to the increasing overuse of antibiotics—scientists must indeed inspire more public faith in their methods and their mutually enforced trustworthiness.

– Selected quotes from a great letter in Science Magazine by Todd L. Pittinsky (America’s crisis of faith in science)

Pittinsky gives a terrific perspective on faith in science and the scientific method, including specific examples of how to inspire faith in science! While a part of me cringes at the use of faith and science in a single sentence, in this case I have been convinced! Check out the full letter here!!!

NOTE: Disappointing to see Pittinsky use ‘global warming’ instead of climate change… womp womp. Guess he isn’t a follower of Bill Nye.

More proof of vaccine effectiveness – PAHO announces elimination of Rubella in Americas!!

South and North America have eradicated Rubella virus with use of vaccines (which DO NOT cause autism)!! This is the third virus that has been eliminated from the Americas using vaccines. More info here at NPR.

The Americas have led the way when it comes to eradicating diseases. It was the first region in the world to eradicate smallpox in 1971 and then polio in 1994. And the PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) already has its sights on another target.

However, elimination of this virus, or others, does not mean people should stop vaccinating. It demonstrates the importance and effectiveness of vaccination.

The eradication of rubella doesn’t mean we’ll never see the virus again in the U.S. People still bring it here from other countries. But it doesn’t spread far because so many Americans are vaccinated.

Despite the success of vaccines in eradicating these harmful and lethal diseases, there is still more to do!

“With rubella under our belt, now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and finish the job of eliminating measles as well,” Etienne (director of PAHO) said.

I guess PAHO should start in California, hahahaha (not really funny). Who said vaccines are ineffective??? And what did they base that lie on??

How should scientists respond to science denialism?? John Cook explains @ConversationEDU

Inoculating against science denial

John Cook, The University of Queensland

Science denial has real, societal consequences. Denial of the link between HIV and AIDS led to more than 330,000 premature deaths in South Africa. Denial of the link between smoking and cancer has caused millions of premature deaths. Thanks to vaccination denial, preventable diseases are making a comeback.

Denial is not something we can ignore or, well, deny. So what does scientific research say is the most effective response? Common wisdom says that communicating more science should be the solution. But a growing body of evidence indicates that this approach can actually backfire, reinforcing people’s prior beliefs.

When you present evidence that threatens a person’s worldview, it can actually strengthen their beliefs. This is called the “worldview backfire effect”. One of the first scientific experiments that observed this effect dates back to 1975.

A psychologist from the University of Kansas presented evidence to teenage Christians that Jesus Christ did not come back from the dead. Now, the evidence wasn’t genuine; it was created for the experiment to see how the participants would react.

What happened was their faith actually strengthened in response to evidence challenging their faith. This type of reaction happens across a range of issues. When US Republicans are given evidence of no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they believe more strongly that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When you debunk the myth linking vaccination to autism, anti-vaxxers respond by opposing vaccination more strongly.

In my own research, when I’ve informed strong political conservatives that there’s a scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming, they become less accepting that humans are causing climate change.

Brute force meets resistance

Ironically, the practice of throwing more science at science denial ignores the social science research into denial. You can’t adequately address this issue without considering the root cause: personal beliefs and ideology driving the rejection of scientific evidence. Attempts at science communication that ignore the potent influence effect of worldview can be futile or even counterproductive.

How then should scientists respond to science denial? The answer lies in a branch of psychology dating back to the 1960s known as “inoculation theory”. Inoculation is an idea that changed history: stop a virus from spreading by exposing people to a weak form of the virus. This simple concept has saved millions of lives.

In the psychological domain, inoculation theory applies the concept of inoculation to knowledge. When we teach science, we typically restrict ourselves to just explaining the science. This is like giving people vitamins. We’re providing the information required for a healthier understanding. But vitamins don’t necessarily grant immunity against a virus.

There is a similar dynamic with misinformation. You might have a healthy understanding of the science. But if you encounter a myth that distorts the science, you’re confronted with a conflict between the science and the myth. If you don’t understand the technique used to distort the science, you have no way to resolve that conflict.

Half a century of research into inoculation theory has found that the way to neutralise misinformation is to expose people to a weak form of the misinformation. The way to achieve this is to explain the fallacy employed by the myth. Once people understand the techniques used to distort the science, they can reconcile the myth with the fact.

Skeptical Science

There is perhaps no more apt way to demonstrate inoculation theory than to address a myth about vaccination. A persistent myth about vaccination is that it causes autism.

This myth originated from a Lancet study which was subsequently shown to be fraudulent and was retracted by the journal. Nevertheless, the myth persists simply due to the persuasive fact that some children have developed autism around the same time they were vaccinated.

This myth uses the logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, Latin for “after this, therefore because of this”. This is a fallacy because correlation does not imply causation. Just because one event happens around the same time as another event doesn’t imply that one causes the other.

The only way to demonstrate causation is through statistically rigorous scientific research. Many studies have investigated this issue and shown conclusively that there is no link between vaccination and autism.

Inoculating minds

The response to science denial is not just more science. We stop science denial by exposing people to a weak form of science denial. We need to inoculate minds against misinformation.

The practical application of inoculation theory is already happening in classrooms, with educators adopting the teaching approach of misconception-based learning (also known as agnotology-based learning or refutational teaching).

This involves teaching science by debunking misconceptions about the science. This approach results in significantly higher learning gains than customary lectures that simply teach the science.

While this is currently happening in a few classrooms, Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) offer the opportunity to scale up this teaching approach to reach potentially hundreds of thousands of students. At the University of Queensland, we’re launching a MOOC that makes sense of climate science denial.

Our approach draws upon inoculation theory, educational research into misconception-based learning and the cognitive psychology of debunking. We explain the psychological research into why and how people deny climate science.

Having laid the framework, we examine the fallacies behind the most common climate myths. Our goal is for students to learn how to identify the techniques used to distort climate science and feel confident responding to misinformation.

A typical response of scientists to science denial is to teach more science. But that only provides half of what’s needed. Scientific research has offered us a solution: build resistance to science denial by exposing people to a weak form of science denial.

The Conversation

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

World Immunization Week 2015 #GetVaccinated

Progress towards global vaccination targets for 2015 is far off-track with 1 in 5 children still missing out on routine life-saving immunizations that could avert 1.5 million deaths each year from preventable diseases. In the lead-up to World Immunization Week 2015 (24–30 April), WHO is calling for renewed efforts to get progress back on course. Read more.

We’ve discussed the importance of vaccination about a billion times on this blog.  World Immunization Week brings to light how important vaccination is for global health!

Get vaccinated video with Elmo and US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy! #science #sesamestreet

Get Vaccinated with the Surgeon General & Elmo!

The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, and Elmo want you to stay healthy and get vaccinated!

Visit http://www.vaccines.gov/ today.