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J. B. Handley fought the vaccine science, and the vaccine science won.

Our old friend anti antivaccine activist J. B. Handley invokes the “vaccines didn’t save us” gambit. It doesn’t go well for him. You could say that he fought vaccine science, but, as always, the vaccine science won.

Two and a half weeks ago, I went undercover, into the belly of the beast so to speak, to an antivaccine panel discussion held by a local candidate for Congress and featuring my state representative, Jeff Noble. They also know that last week antivaxers were trying to entice me into appearing on a panel with antivaxers as the token pro-science skeptic. (I declined, but did get a fun blog post out of it.) These two recent events got me to thinking—or perhaps I should say “thinking again”—about the tactics and tropes favored by the antivaccine movement. This thinking came into relief when I came across this not so little gem of antivaccine misdirection by an old “friend” of mine, J.B. Handley. Let’s just say that he tried to fight vaccine science—again—and vaccine science won. Again.

J.B. Handley and I go back a long way. He first appeared on version one of this blog as a commenter sometime in 2005, if I recall correctly, but quickly disappeared when he realized that his antivaccine pseudoscience wasn’t persuading anyone, least of all me. You might recall that Handley and his wife founded the antivaccine group Generation Rescue, which later became Jenny McCarthy’s antivaccine group when she became its president. (She’s still on the group’s board of directors.) Generation Rescue began primarily as a flagbearer for what I used to like to call the “mercury militia,” a branch of the antivaccine movement whose central belief was that the mercury in the thimerosal preservative that was in some childhood vaccines until 2002 was the primary cause of the so-called “autism epidemic.” However, as it became clearer and clearer after the removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines that autism rates were not declining, meaning that there was no link between mercury in vaccines and autism, Handley pivoted to claiming that autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders are caused by “an overload of heavy metals, live viruses, and bacteria,” and that the primary causes of the alleged autism epidemic “[included] the tripling of vaccines given to children in the last 15 years (mercury, aluminum and live viruses); maternal toxic load and prenatal vaccines; heavy metals like mercury in our air, water, and food; and the overuse of antibiotics.” In other words, he switched from a hypothesis that was rapidly being falsified to one that is damned near unfalsifiable. Even back then vaccine science was not his friend. Heck, vaccine science was never his friend.

Since then, I’ve mentioned Handley’s activities from time to time, such as when he gloated over the decline in confidence in vaccines among parents, in essence taking credit for it; attacked Steve Novella; launched a misogynistic attack on a female journalist who had written a pro-vaccine article; and in general demonstrating a high level of Dunning-Kruger effect. Let’s just say that J.B. thinks he knows vaccine science. He does not.

This time around, he demonstrated his lack of knowledge of vaccine science yet again by reminding me of one of the two main tactics of antivaxers, a tactic that isn’t covered enough. Basically, there are two central tenets of antivaccine pseudoscience. The first, of course, is that vaccines are harmful because they’re chock full of toxins and cause all sorts of horrific health problems. Skeptics refute this type of misinformation quite well. However, the second tenet of antivaccine pseudoscience is that vaccines don’t work (or don’t work very well) and as a result are not nearly as beneficial as vaccine advocates claim. One variety of this “vaccines don’t work” trope is what I like to refer to as the “vaccines didn’t save us” gambit, which is essentially the claim that vaccines had little to do with the decline in infectious disease over the last century. You can tell that’s the trope by the title of Handley’s blog post, “Did vaccines save humanity?” I will give Handley credit for one thing. This is a wrinkle on this hoary old bit of antivaccine intellectual dishonesty that I haven’t seen before.

Handley attacks a massive strawman

You know Handley’s argument is going to be dicey right from the opening passage of his blog post:

Since 1900, the mortality rate in America has declined by roughly 74%, creating a dramatic improvement in quality of life and life expectancy for Americans. The simple question is, “Why?”

Why did the mortality rate decline so precipitously? If you listen to vaccine promoters, the answer is simple: vaccines saved us. What’s crazy about this narrative is how easy it is to disprove, the data is hiding in plain sight. The fact that this easily-proven-false narrative persists, however, tells us a lot about the world we live in, and I hope will encourage parents to reconsider the veracity of many of the narratives they’ve been fed about vaccines.

Can you spot the straw man? It should be fairly easy for SBM readers. Basically, no scientist I know of is claiming that vaccines are responsible for all or most of the 74% decline in mortality observed over the 73 year period that Handley references in his post. Basically, what he’s doing is what we call inflating the denominator, which means making the denominator as huge as he can in order to make the percentage that he gets when he divides the numerator by it as small as possible. Of course, you know what the numerator is going to be. That’s right, deaths prevented by vaccines.

But does Handley have a point? Has he found a flaw in the vaccine science he’s attacking? Not really, as you will see. Rather, what he does is to cherry pick and misinterpret a handful of studies, take some not unreasonable cautioning by some scientists in the past, and mixing them together to make the deceptive claim that vaccines do very little good.

Edward Kass in 1970

The first piece of evidence that Handley cites is a speech by Edward Kass, MD, who at the time was President of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Now, Mr. Handley might be forgiven if he doesn’t realize that speeches that the outgoing President of a medical society give are not the same as peer-reviewed evidence. I’ve been to a lot of these speeches, and one thing I’ve realized over the years is that there is a subset of them in which the society’s president is trying to tweak his membership, to challenge them with a controversial viewpoint. Dr. Kass’ speech, which was published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases in January 1971, strikes me as just that variety of presidential speech. In it, he cautioned his fellow infectious disease doctors and researchers that what they do didn’t have as large an influence as they like to think on mortality. Indeed, the title of the speech is telling, “Infectious Diseases and Social Change“. Using Kass’s speech, Handley invokes the “vaccines didn’t save us” gambit based on the observation that the mortality from various infectious diseases had been declining for decades before the vaccines were introduced for them and how mortality from scarlet fever (for which there has never been a widely used vaccine) was also in decline.

Handley again beats the straw man:

At the time, Dr. Kass was actually the President of the organization, which made the things he had to say about vaccines and their impact on the reduction in American mortality rates even more shocking, at least by today’s standards. Forty-eight years after Dr. Kass’ speech, vaccines have taken on a mythological status in many corners of our world, hyped up by the people who benefit the most from their use. Of course vaccines saved the world. Of course every child should get every vaccine. If you don’t vaccinate, you will enable the return of deadly childhood diseases. If you don’t vaccinate, your child will die. If you question vaccines, even a little, you’re an “anti-vaxxer” who should be shunned and dismissed!

Reading over Dr. Kass’s actual speech, I noted right away that it was not an antivaccine speech. Far from it. Handley opines that Kass “never referred to vaccines as “mankind’s greatest invention” or one of the other many hyperbolic ways vaccines are described all the time by vaccine promoters in the press today”, but, then, why would he have? His speech wasn’t about vaccines. Handley, of course, is very impressed by this particular quote from Kass:

…we had accepted some half truths and had stopped searching for the whole truths. The principal half truths were that medical research had stamped out the great killers of the past —tuberculosis, diphtheria, pneumonia, puerperal sepsis, etc. —and that medical research and our superior system of medical care were major factors extending life expectancy, thus providing the American people with the highest level of health available in the world. That these are half truths is known but is perhaps not as well known as it should be.

Of course, I can’t help but point out that, even if you accept the premise that these are “half truths,” that doesn’t mean medicine doesn’t work, and it doesn’t mean that vaccines weren’t important. Quite simply, Dr. Kass was pointing out that a lot of the improvement in our health has been due to improved socio-economic conditions and then went on to speculate about potential mechanisms. Handley quotes the first, but not the second, part of this passage. Here’s what Handley quoted:

This decline in rates of certain disorders, correlated roughly with socioeconomic circumstances, is merely the most important happening in the history of the health of man, yet we have only the vaguest and most general notions about how it happened and by what mechanisms socioeconomic improvement and decreased rates of certain diseases run in parallel.

Which is true but incomplete. Here’s what Kass said next:

We know that for many infectious diseases, such as poliomyelitis and perhaps infectious hepatitis, the trend is opposite, and for some there is little or no socioeconomic status.

So the relationship, while common, is not absolute. He also noted that there is little evidence that nutritional improvements account for the decline in mortality from common infections. So what does account for the differences? Kass speculated:

What other explanations are there for the effects of being poor? One explanation was developed in England more than 40 years ago (figure 6). It was shown that rates of rheumatic heart disease were almost linearly related to crowding at home. This is understandable since spread by droplet infection is greatest in a narrow radius around an infected source and the home is, particularly for children the place in which most prolonged contact will occur.

Kass also cited data from World War I that showed that when beds in barracks were placed too close together rates of meningococcal infection among troops rose abruptly and a study from Baltimore that showed in African-American children that attack rates for rheumatic behavior were not related to low income or lower educational attainment, but were directly related to the number of people per bedroom.

Of course, what Kass was really showing was that there are more ways to prevent disease than just vaccines, and this is hardly a message that anyone in public health would dispute. Nor is it a message that shows that vaccines don’t work. I’ll elaborate more as I discuss the next reference cherry picked by Mr. Handley.

“McKinlay & McKinlay”, or: Look how J.B. Handley had to go back 40 years to find a paper supporting him

Mr. Handley refers to his next piece of evidence as the “the most famous study you’ve never heard of”. I wouldn’t quite say that. For one thing, it’s not a study, but rather an opinion piece that reads like a book chapter more than anything else. Naturally, as I always do, I read all 23 pages of the article, entitled “The Questionable Contribution of Medical Measures to the Decline of Mortality in the United States in the Twentieth Century“. Unlike Mr. Handley, I didn’t find it a difficult read at all, although I did think that at points John and Sonja McKinlay (the authors were a husband-and-wife team of epidemiologists) overstate their case. Certainly, whenever I see a paper start with a subsection title of “Introducing a Medical Heresy”, my skeptical antennae start twitching a bit. I also couldn’t help but think “Grandiose, much?” when I read the first paragraph:

The modern “heresy” that medical care (as it is traditionally conceived) is generally unrelated to improvements in the health of populations (as distinct from individuals) is still dismissed as thinkable in much the same way as the so-called heresies of former times. And this is despite a long history of support in popular and scientific writings as well as from able minds in a variety of disciplines. History is replete with examples of how, understandably enough, self-interested individuals and groups denounced customs and beliefs which appeared to threaten their own domains of practice, thereby rendering them heresies (for example physicians’ denunciation of midwives as witches, during the Middle Ages). We also know that vast institutional resources have often been deployed to neutralize challenges to the assumptions upon which everyday organizational activities were founded and legitimated (for example, the Spanish Inquisition).

Because nobody expects…the Spanish Inquisition!

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. However, I must say that my skeptical antennae started twitching so mightily when I saw McKinlay and McKinlay invoke the Spanish Inquisition as an appropriate comparison to medical orthodoxy. Comparing medicine to religion, no wonder Handley liked this article so much:

The study clearly proved, with data, something that the McKinlay’s acknowledged might be viewed by some as medical “heresy.” Namely:

…that the introduction of specific medical measures and/or the expansion of medical services are generally not responsible for most of the modern decline in mortality.

By “medical measures,” the McKinlay’s really meant ANYTHING modern medicine had come up with, whether that was antibiotics, vaccines, new prescription drugs, whatever. The McKinlay’s 23-page study really should be read cover to cover, but in a nutshell the McKinlay’s sought to analyze how much of an impact medical interventions (antibiotics, surgery, vaccines) had on this massive decline in mortality rates between 1900 and 1970:

And here’s the graph:

Mortality improvement

So, yes, there was a remarkable decline in mortality from 1900-1973. Of course, once again, this is inflating the denominator, because this is all mortality, not just mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases or childhood mortality. In a later graph, he looks at what proportion of the total mortality reduction was represented by various infectious diseases, finding that only the declines in tuberculosis and pneumonia mortality were fairly large percentages of the overall decline 1973 (16.5% and 11.7%, respectively) and that the percent of the total decline in mortality from the other eight conditions examined (scarlet fever, diphtheria, influenza, whooping cough, measles, smallpox, polio, and typhoid) combined was less than 12%.

This leads McKinlay and McKinlay to conclude:

Even if it were assumed that this change was entirely due to the vaccines, then only about one percent of the decline following interventions for the diseases considered here could be attributed to medical measures. Rather more conservatively, if we attribute some of the subsequent fall in the death rates for pneumonia, influenza, whooping cough, and diphtheria to medical measures, then perhaps 3.5 percent of the fall in the overall death rate can be explained through medical intervention in the major infectious diseases considered here. Indeed, given that it is precisely for these diseases that medicine claims most success in lowering mortality, 3.5 percent probably represents a reasonable upper-limit estimate of the total contribution of medical measures to the decline in mortality in the United States since 1900.

Of course, I can’t help but point out that, even if this pessimistic estimate were accurate, that would still be millions of lives saved over that 73 year period. There’s also another problem, and McKinlay and McKinlay themselves note it. Mortality statistics over such a long time period are fraught with difficulties. For instance, there were changes in registration areas in the US in the early 20th century. Also, often no single disease, but a combination of conditions, is responsible for death. Moreover, studies show considerable inaccuracies in reporting the cause of death, and, just as relevant, there are changes over time in what is fashionable to diagnose. Add to that how some conditions cause immediate death, while others don’t. For example, consider scarlet fever. Untreated, it can result in rheumatic heart disease, but that usually doesn’t kill for decades. Indeed, my grandmother was an example. She had rheumatic heart disease after having had scarlet fever as a child. Eventually she needed a valve replacement. So if someone dies of rheumatic heart disease at age 60, is the cause of death heart disease or scarlet fever? Also, there are a lot of conditions that are debilitating but don’t cause immediate death. It’s true that over the last 50 years reporting has become a lot more standardized, but if you’re looking at statistics going back into the 19th century, you have to wonder how accurate they are.

Here’s another issue. Everybody dies. I like to say that life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease. If you don’t die of an infectious disease, you’ll die of something else eventually. That’s just the way it is. Heck, even McKinlay and McKinlay show that in this article with a graph showing the decreasing percentage of people dying of infectious disease being compensated for by the increasing percentage of people dying of chronic diseases and diseases of aging. In other words, it’s complex.

Of course, as I said the last time I discussed the “vaccines didn’t save us” gambit, there’s another problem with the use of mortality statistics über alles. They completely ignore incidence of the disease being prevented by vaccines. For instance, yes, mortality from measles was falling long before the vaccine—decades in fact. However, incidence, albeit fluctuating yearly, remained roughly the same until the measles vaccine was introduced, after which the incidence fell precipitously. And that’s the problem. Consideration of mortality alone as the be-all and end-all of whether a vaccine works completely ignores all the morbidity, all the suffering caused by infectious disease. By this analysis (and to J.B. Handley), none of that matters.

Vital statistics abused

The next paper used and abused by Handley is a paper published in 2000 by epidemiologists from both Johns Hopkins and the Centers for Disease Control entitled “Annual Summary of Vital Statistics: Trends in the Health of Americans During the 20th Century“. You can see why from the selective quote he chooses to highlight:

Thus vaccination does not account for the impressive declines in mortality seen in the first half of the century…nearly 90% of the decline in infectious disease mortality among US children occurred before 1940, when few antibiotics or vaccine were available.

No one ever said that vaccination did account for the impressive declines in mortality seen in the first half of the 20th century. Antivaxers like Handley like to make that claim, either explicitly or implicitly, but that doesn’t make it so. In fact, what’s interesting about this paper is that it actually explains the likely reason why mortality due to infectious diseases declined in the first half of the 20th century:

The major declines in child mortality that occurred in the first third of the 20th century have been attributed to a combination of improved socioeconomic conditions in this country and the public health strategies to protect the health of Americans. These public health measures included the establishment of local health departments in nearly all of the states. State and local health departments implemented these public health measures, including water treatment, food safety, organized solid waste disposal, and public education about hygienic practices. These improvements in water and food safety and purity are linked to the major decline in diarrheal diseases seen in the early years of the century. Similarly, improvements in housing and decreased crowding in US cities are linked to the reductions in mortality from tuberculosis and other diseases attributable to person-to-person airborne transmission.

The paper also notes:

Thus, vaccination does not account for the impressive declines in mortality seen in the first half of the century. The reductions in vaccine-preventable diseases, however, are impressive. In the early 1920s, diphtheria accounted for 175,000 cases annually and pertussis for nearly 150,000 cases; measles accounted for about half a million annual cases before the introduction of vaccine in the 1960s. Deaths from these diseases have been virtually eliminated, as have deaths from Haemophilus influenzae, tetanus, and poliomyelitis.

In other words, socioeconomic changes decreased mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases before the actual vaccines were developed, but the vaccines were important and remain important in preventing diseases and the morbidity and mortality from those diseases. Funny how J.B. Handley neglected to mention this part of the paper.

The Aaby Study

The hits keep coming from J.B. Handley, as anyone who knows him would expect. Next up:

Published in the peer-reviewed journal EBioMedicine in 2017, the study is titled, “The Introduction of Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis and Oral Polio Vaccine Among Young Infants in an Urban African Community: A Natural Experiment.” Researchers from the Research Center for Vitamins and Vaccines, Statens Serum Institut (Denmark), and Bandim Health Project looked closely at data from the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau. The scientists in this study closely explored the concept of NSEs, “nonspecific effects” of vaccines, which is a fancy way of saying vaccines may make a child more susceptible to other infections. They found that the data for African children who had been vaccinated with the DTP vaccine:

was associated with 5-fold higher mortality than being unvaccinated. No prospective study has shown beneficial survival effects of DTP. . . . DTP is the most widely used vaccine. . . . All currently available evidence suggests that DTP vaccine may kill more children from other causes than it saves from diphtheria, tetanus, or pertussis. Though a vaccine protects children against the target disease, it may simultaneously increase susceptibility to unrelated infections.

Wow. Sounds damning.

Not surprisingly, it’s not. As Skeptical Raptor noted, the study was tiny, and the number of deaths studied was even tinier. Also, the deaths were not categorized. Basically, this was a typical small study with questionable results.

What J.B. Handley missed.

I could go on and on and on about how Handley has weaponized the Dunning-Kruger effect to cherry pick articles that he can spin to make it seem as though vaccines are not effective. More recent studies show that vaccination does indeed save lives. For example:

Childhood vaccination, and in particular measles and tetanus vaccination, is associated with substantial reductions in childhood mortality. We estimated that children in clusters with complete vaccination coverage have a relative risk of mortality that is 0.73 (95% confidence interval: 0.68, 0.77) times that of children in a cluster with no vaccinations. Although widely used, basic vaccines still have coverage rates well below 100% in many countries, and our results emphasize the effectiveness of increasing coverage rates in order to reduce child mortality.

Meanwhile, the dreaded CDC notes:

Strategic vaccination campaigns have virtually eliminated diseases that previously were common in the United States, including diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, and Haemophilus influenzae type b meningitis (8). With the licensure of the combined diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and pertussis vaccine in 1949, state and local health departments instituted vaccination programs, aimed primarily at poor children. In 1955, the introduction of the Salk poliovirus vaccine led to federal funding of state and local childhood vaccination programs. In 1962, a federally coordinated vaccination program was established through the passage of the Vaccination Assistance Act–landmark legislation that has been renewed continuously and now supports the purchase and administration of a full range of childhood vaccines.


The use of mortality as the be-all and end-all of vaccine efficacy is an intentional strategy of the antivaccine movement. This strategy completely ignores the morbidity and suffering due to vaccine-preventable diseases.

J.B. Handley, on the other hand, thinks this (if you can call it thinking):

So am I saying no one should vaccinate? No, I’m not. Vaccines provide temporary protection from certain acute illnesses. Some matter more than others. I think we give way too many vaccines, and I think the risk/benefit equation of each vaccine is never properly revealed to parents. Worse, the lie that vaccines saved humanity in the twentieth century has turned many vaccine promoters into zealots, even though their narratives are simply not supported by the facts.

As a counter-point:

A greater than 92% decline in cases and a 99% or greater decline in deaths due to diseases prevented by vaccines recommended before 1980 were shown for diphtheria, mumps, pertussis, and tetanus. Endemic transmission of poliovirus and measles and rubella viruses has been eliminated in the United States; smallpox has been eradicated worldwide. Declines were 80% or greater for cases and deaths of most vaccine-preventable diseases targeted since 1980 including hepatitis A, acute hepatitis B, Hib, and varicella. Declines in cases and deaths of invasive S pneumoniae were 34% and 25%, respectively.

And, from the World Health Organization:

Ehreth estimates that vaccines annually prevent almost 6 million deaths worldwide. In the USA, there has been a 99% decrease in incidence for the nine diseases for which vaccines have been recommended for decades, accompanied by a similar decline in mortality and disease sequelae.

No, the only one spreading lies here is Mr. Handley, who is also attacking an obvious straw man. Vaccines work.

The bottom line is that vaccines are safe, effective, and prevent disease. Yes, sanitation and public health measures decreased mortality from infectious diseases before vaccines for them were developed, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t work or aren’t important. The “vaccines didn’t save us” gambit, as demonstrated by J.B. Handley, remains intellectually dishonest.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

73 replies on “J. B. Handley fought the vaccine science, and the vaccine science won.”

I wonder if Mr Handley will reply. The only infectious diseases eradicated through improved sanitation I can think of are Cholera and Typhoid/Typhus.
But I have had a beer or two!

Isn’t there a cholera vaccine? I know I got the typhoid vaccine before I traveled somewhere.

But how about guinea worm? There’s no vaccine or treatment, only sanitation (ie, safer access to clean water), but it’s mostly gone (although there was an upsetting case in a country where previously thought to be guinea worm free).

JustaTech: There is, both an oral and an injected vaccine. They’re not among the most effective vaccines we have, and immunity wanes quickly. But they work, and they’re safe. Considering how many people cholera kills every year, especially in war areas or after a natural disaster, it makes me wonder why distributing it isn’t a priority. Then again, maybe it is, or maybe cost and access are the problem. I don’t know.

@Panacea. The components of Vaxchora, the single-dose vaccine recently approved in the US, must be kept frozen. The components of the other two oral vaccines in use, Dukoral and ShanChol, are must be kept cold and require 2 doses. In March, the WHO approved StanChol for storage at temperatures up to 104°F (40°C) for less than 2 weeks.

Thanks, Steve . . . interesting information and explains why it’s probably not commonly available in the developing world: lack of refrigeration.

@Panacea. You’re welcome. Another issue is that immunity wanes quickly, from 90% after a week down to less than 50% after 2 years. That being said, Vietnam regularly vaccinates its residents against cholera, which in combination with other public health measures has made a huge reduction in cholera incidence.

Well, sanitation did apparently cause polio to move to more dangerous ages and epidemic cycles in the U.S., but if Bradley wants to have open sewers again, he should put it front and center.

Handley has a book coming out next month, “How To End The Autism Epidemic”. One can assume it will provide further opportunities for flogging the antivax dead horse.

On the brighter side, two new pro-immunization books have appeared, Kristen Feemster’s “Vaccines” (she’s director of research for the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) and Michael Kinch’s “Between Hope and Fear”. From a review of Kinch’s book:

“The volume and advocacy of false facts by an obnoxious and loud minority has overwhelmed the fact-based attempts by credible sources to expound the extraordinary health benefits of vaccination,” writes Kinch. “Unfortunately, the scientific community has largely demurred from confronting these loud disagreements.” Partly through their efforts, American smallpox deaths rose during the 19th century after the introduction of vaccination. It was the law that turned the tide. Beginning in 1905, court decisions affirmed that compulsory vaccination, like water chlorination, is a legitimate government public health function. Courts—not the facts—remain the American anti-vaccine movement’s most effective opponent. Like evidence that the Earth is not flat or that Elvis is dead, careful studies showing that vaccines save lives rarely convince true believers and bore many who have not taken up the cause, but readers who persist will be rewarded with a riveting chronicle of one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of medical science.”

The autistic community is already having a full bore go at him over that book.
Handley just doesn’t get it, never has, and probably never will. He is wrong about vaccines causing autism, but at this point, he has gone too far down the path to admit he got it wrong.

Oh Dangerous One!

Ten days ago, AoA linked to a radio** interview with JB in which he detailed his plan: children with certain characteristics ( a family member with an autoimmune illness, particular genetic sequences, other stuff) should be screened and not vaccinated.
The interview isn’t very long ( 15 or 17 minutes IIRC) but it succinctly presents JB in all of his glory.
Right, that bad.
Since then, the post has garnered 150 comments, many by Cia Parker.

** WOWO, somewhere in Indiana.

This was Lawrence Solomon’s big idea shortly before he disappeared from the antivax jabberfest. He’s probably too busy warning us about the coming “Little Ice Age”, and informing us about how awesome Donald Trump is.

I am not making this up.

Mr. Handley has been making very strong efforts to reinvent vaccines science drawing on unrelated studies, mice studies, and bad studies.

I would say maybe he should talk to an expert, but he probably think he does, by talking to Exley and the rest of the group funded by Dwoskin.

This is another example of thinking he knows more than the actual experts. Because, I suppose, he assumed they have not considered this before going public and stating vaccines save lives. Sigh.

Unfortunately, you’re probably correct.
People like Handley ( and most anti-vaxxers) with little or no background in health sciences who YET attempt to survey, critique and reform entire fields of study without first self-evaluating their own lack of expertise.
It tells me more about the critic than the material under consideration.

Serendipitously, I’m now listening to Null recite his newest expose of Wikipedia, sceptics and our peerless leader.
Wikipedia is the Dark Side or such like ( It is the “height of arrogance and narcissism” ” What justifies you being the judge?”

That was the point of Dunning and Kruger. People like Handley know so little about the subject they are discussing that they don’t even know what they don’t know. It is precisely that lack of awareness that allows such people to talk on about the subject.

@ Eric Lund:

Sure, it also signals other problems which I won’t go into.

I sometimes think that Orac, as a connoisseur of D-K exemplars, should think up a list of worthies: who are the Top Ten ( or One Hundred). Who is the GOAT?

Does Mr. Handley think that cars should not have seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, etc.? One could make a similar argument regarding car safety devices to the one he makes about vaccines, and it would be just as fallacious. True, improved medical science allows people to survive crash injuries that would have been fatal in the past. But there have also been safety improvements to a lot of car systems during my lifetime–as I say only half in jest, the only relevant system that has not been improved is the nut behind the steering wheel. The result of these systems is that injuries in crashes are likely to be much less severe to begin with, and in many cases, people who would have died if they had been driving 1960s era or earlier cars[1] simply walk away. A similar thing applies to vaccine preventable diseases: improved medical knowledge certainly helps, but what helps even more is the fact that, thanks to vaccines, far fewer people get sick in the first place.

[1]This would include one of my uncles, whom I never met because he died in a car crash when his younger sister, my mother, was still a baby.

Well there is the argument that all these safety devices have increased the number of deaths of pedestrians and cyclists.

I believe a cyclist in the neighborhood who was riding properly was recently fatally doored. Gotta go back to the Dukes of Hazzard style.

^ After all, the Ellie Mae shorts seem to be fashionable among the undergrads again now that it’s too warm for the tired pre-ripped jeans look. At least she didn’t wear flip-flops. Look, if you can’t walk without sounding like a horse, they’re the wrong damn shoes, rubber or heels.

@ Narad re dooring
This is, probably, a combination, of a tiny miscalculation on the cyclist’s part (few cm closer to the curbside than realised) and gross, (criminal),negligence on the driver’s part. As a long-term cyclist, I assume that all drivers are half-blind, psychopaths.

This is not what I meant however in the above post. Increased safety devices as Eric mentioned seem to increase riskier behaviour behaviour.

There are theories with quite good empirical support suggesting that people have “acceptable” levels of “perceived” risk so if you reduce the perceived risk, say by installing airbags in a car the driver will speed up. Put a helmet on a down-hill skier and the skier will go faster despite no increase in skill. And so on.

There are a couple of apparently competing (I cannot see much difference in practice) theories on this: Gerry Wilde’s and John Adam’s Risk Compensation.

Adams has published at least one paper showing that the introduction of sea belts in Sweden had essentially no effect on fatalities. Vehicle occupants’ deaths decreased, deaths of other road users increased. Wilde has an interesting paper showing that the introduction of interlocking brake (?) systems in a taxi fleet in a German city seemed to lead to increased accidents.

Did the McKay’s look at the total reduction of mortality worldwide from smallpox vaccine over the same time period (1900 – 1973)? The WHO says there were about 300 million deaths from smallpox in the twentieth century. That would have to temper their conclusions about the success of medical interventions, I would think. 300 million/century(actually, only about the first 3/4 of the century) to zero/century or ever, is not unimpressive.

And that’s not even mentioning the morbidity, as Orac says. My dad, a former GP, keeps mentioning that when he was an intern, there were 300 beds in the pediatric polio ward he worked in, always full, and in a rather small city hospital. That’s now zero as well. I consider that pretty good!

Meanwhile, thanks to the efforts of people like Handley, Europe has seen more than 41,000 measles cases in the first six months of 2018, up from about 24,000 in all of 2017 and about 5300 in 2016. Thirty-seven people have died of measles this year, which doesn’t sound like a harmless disease to me. Serbia and Ukraine are hardest hit (more than 0.6% of the population in those two countries), but it has spread throughout Europe, with more than 800 cases in England.

The BBC article blames the discredited Wakefield et al. (not by name, but anyone familiar with the topic will recognize ti) study. It also mentions the recent vote in the upper house of Italy’s Parliament to scrap vaccine mandates for schoolchildren.

Orac writes,

The bottom line is that vaccines are safe, effective, and prevent disease.

MJD says,

Historically, medical bandages promoted the same bottom line. and yet over the last decade the FDA continues to mandate warning-labels on said bandages based on potentially hazardous components therein. In my opinion, J.B. Handley is a spirited vaccine-safety advocate searching for potentially hazardous components and/or processes that may affect the incidence of adverse responses during vaccinations.

Q. Is J.B. Handley right?

A. Maybe and maybe not.

But, let’s not crucify Mr. Handley for the effort. I can’t wait to read his next book!

AoA: Ginger Taylor reacts to Simon Baron Cohen’s reaction to Handley’s book.

easily-proven-false narrative

I see that Bradley doesn’t understand hyphens, either.

Probably sound okay in German. Russian seems to have a word недоговороспособны that translates as “non-agreement-capable”.

Here’s an example of vaccine researchers trying to understand human mast cells in relation to vaccine efficacy and safety.

The researchers write, “The constant threats posed by infectious diseases over millions of years may have driven evolutionary pressure to keep mast cells, despite their adverse properties, e.g. in causing allergy, in humans to exploit these cells’ beneficial functions in host defense. Our immune system has evolved mechanisms to balance the positive and negative contributions of mast cells to health.”

MJD says,

It is hypothesized that some infants have atypical immunity wherein the negative contribution of mast cells affect the severity of allergy-induced regressive autism. Yes, it is further speculated that vaccines have played a role in such atypicality.

Q. Does anyone want MJD to elaborate on the specific mechanism-of-action, or should I just reference a scholarly book that you can read at your convenience.

It is hypothesized by some English teachers that some of their students have atypical reasoning functions which are reflected in their inability to recognize errors in subject-verb agreement.

Do any of the published studies in this field
involve mast cells?

On a more serious note, I got a picture today of my grandson with his cousin who is autistic and thought of your son. Fortunately the cousin’s case is not as severe as your son’s, but he is getting therapy. How is your son doing this week?

Squirrelelite asks,

Do any of the published studies in this field involve mast cells?

MJD says,

Q. Why is a squirrel’s long bushy tail so prominent.

A. Evolution

If Charles Darwin didn’t write about said tails does that make the answer (A.) above questionable?

Quit shifting the goal posts, Michael, and answer the effin’ question.

My take is the answer is “no.”

To satisfy my own curiosity, I looked up Michael’s phenomenon and discovered there have been no studies at all listed in pubmed. Hence the link.

And yet Michael now wants to explore things that are speculated to affect the severity of this unverified phenomenon! I think we are truly into tooth fairy science now.

measles accounted for about half a million annual cases

Man, this line drives me bats. It’s a cohort.

Yes, vaccines may work for a period of time. Yet, many doctors are not trained to identify adverse events unfortunately.

Please elaborate, you need to provide more details. When I was a kid it was common for kids to get mumps twice, and the immunity to certain bacterial infections fades quickly. There is nothing more silly than expecting a vaccine to provide better immunity to actually getting and suffering through the disease.

So please explain how you would design a vaccine to give better immunity to the actual disease with supporting PubMed citations that it would actually work.

Also, explain how exactly the adverse reactions to a vaccine are worse than the diseases. Just provide the PubMed indexed studies by reputable qualified researchers that any vaccine on the present American pediatric schedule causes more harm than the actual diseases. Take the MMR vaccine, does it cause more encephalitis than measles (which is a rate of one out of a thousand cases)?

When I was a kid it was common for kids to get mumps twice

As I’ve mentioned before, when I finally got chickenpox in my junior year in college, it was transmitted from someone who had had it for the second time. Natural!

Facts not in evidence, unless of course you’re talking about the not-adverse effect fantasies like autism that antivaxxers keep spouting.

I’m going to have to drag out “Wide Wide River” again, but I don’t think he’s earned it yet.

“Yes, vaccines may work for a period of time.”

When was the last time you saw an adult with the measles?

I was wondering that myself. I do not remember having measles and I am too old to have received the vaccine. Maybe I should ask my doctor about it.

Physicians unable to identify AEs and not reporting to VAERS results in an incomplete database. A case in point is a friend with a child who developed Henoch-Schonlein Purpura within a week following Tdap. The child subsequently developed IgA Nephropathy. This case was not reported to VAERS by the physician. There are case reports in the literature of HSP associated with meningococcal vaccine, MMR, flu vaccine. While this is considered a rare occurrence with vaccination it is still a serious AE…and it was not reported.

Did you advise the parent to seek compensation through the NVICP anyway?

I found 6 cases of HSP reported in 2015, 10 in 2016, 16 in 2017 andf 5 so far this year, so obviously the word is getting through to the CDC researchers anyway. That is the real purpose of VAERS.

I didn’t know what HSP was so I went & had a look. And golly gosh: “Nearly half the people who have Henoch-Schonlein purpura developed the disease after an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold. Infectious triggers may include chickenpox, strep throat, measles and hepatitis. Other triggers may include certain medications, food, insect bites or exposure to cold weather.” ( So measles may also cause it, which would suggest there are additional benefits to the vaccination.
Also, ‘within a week’ – what other things happened, in that week, that might also have triggered the disease?

“In two-thirds of the cases (of Henoch-Schonlein purpura), the disease follows an upper respiratory tract infection, with onset an average of ten days after the start of respiratory symptoms. Despite this association, no single microorganism or environmental exposure has been confirmed as an important cause of HSP.”

There have been reports of HSP occurring in association with hepatitis A and hepatitis B infection (along with infections due to other pathogens such as group A strep), so getting vaccinated might help protect against it.

Fortunately, HSP (unlike antivax stupidity) resolves spontaneously in the great majority of cases.

It is a physician’s responsibility to report a case like HSP and IgA Nephropathy associated with vaccination to the VAERs. It is not the responsibility of a parent. It is gross negligence. This AE has changed the coarse of this child’s life. Most of the patients who have sustained an injury such as this were following their doctors’ recommendations. Severe AEs are unpredictable. The risk/benefit ratio is difficult to determine with an incomplete data base. Furthermore, many physicians are not knowledgeable about identifying AEs.

Who knows when you yourself or a family member may have to deal with a severe AE after vaccination. One can not predict it.

Actually I think a physican’s primary responsibility is to diagnose and treat the symptoms/disease/condition the patient has at the time. Filing a VAERS report is a secondary responsibility and will depend on some judgment or suspicion that the condition might have been caused by a vaccine.

Since IgA nephropathy can develop slowly for years with no symptoms, it would be unusual to connect it to a vaccination.

And guess what else can cause it?

An actual infection!

So how long was it between the vaccine and the diagnosis?

What antigen caused the IgA that caused the nephropathy?

Mr. Scott is hung up over the idea that not every potential adverse effect of a vaccine may be reported to VAERS (though he seemingly has no concern about the dubious links that have been reported (another howler was the case of the young woman who fell down a well and died at least a week after her HPV shot, a “link” that showed up on one prominent antivax group’s website).

More importantly, Mr. Scott is either unaware of or ignores other post-marketing surveillance systems, including the Vaccine Safety Datalink, PRISM and the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment Project.

We don’t depend exclusively on VAERS to tell us about vaccine safety.

I came here to mention a video someone has suggested I watch featuring Kerri Rivera and Stephanie Seneff where Seneff has taken up grifting for MMS. It is mind-numbing.

So you don’t have to watch, the argument goes something like glyphosate is the true cause of autism. Glyphosate is similar to glycine, so gets incorporated into all proteins (actually it cannot, but Seneff doesn’t let this get in the way of a good theory), which stops them being recycled properly. Then there are a few connections I missed, but this somehow causes every disease known to man including autism. However, there is good news. Chlorine dioxide is known to break down glyphosate (actually it is not very good at this, but Seneff doesn’t let that get in the way of a good theory) and breaks it down inside the body to compounds the body can use for growth. I missed some connections after this.

So giving your autistic child MMS will break down the glyphosate and cure the autism. Or something.

Seneff has evidently gone even further down the rabbit hole.

For an expedition into the darkest heart of antivax insanity (with Abbott and Costello overtones), the website of Hulda Clark’s one-time “publicist” has a real beaut posted, by the legendary-in-his-own-mind Karma Singh, a long-haired Brit who supposedly made and lost millions, got into Healing Transmissions and is now out to alert the world to the dangers of GMOs, Fukushima radiation and of course Gardasil. Singh, who knows that thousands of young girls have been killed and tens of thousands seriously crippled by this deadly vaccine, had his “prayers” answered when he personally found out about a case of “Gardasil damage”, which caused a 14-year-old girl to stop growing and experience profound weakness, though it seems she had a few problems to begin with:

“(1) She has a severely displaced atlas vertebra which causes tension throughout her spine which is, then, carried over to her other organs.

(2) She has quite a high level of mercury poisoning, mostly from vaccines.

(3) She has a high level of cow dairy consumption which (combined with 2) has led to serious kidney under-function.

(4) She is the first born which always carries a higher stress load.

(5) For her life-plan she needs a body which is capable of fine sensitivity; this places an additional load upon her lymph system which, of course, finds its centre in the small intestine.”

“There is also a very specific poison added to Gardasil which appears to target girls who are or potentially are highly intuitive. Such girls would tend to become the priestesses needed in our new societies.”

There’s a lot more but those are some of the major loony highlights.

Karma Singh has a number of YouTube videos posted which undoubtedly are worth viewing if you require an even higher level of brain mush.

**thankfully, Singh reports that he gave this unfortunate young girl one of his Clearing Transmissions DVDs, which should eliminate the toxic mercury and probably also “disintegrate the Gardasil where it lies.”

That is the wackiest, dumbest thing I have read all day, and I read the newspaper this morning.

There are corners of the internet even whackier than this. You need to get out more.

Or perhaps not.

(4) She is the first born which always carries a higher stress load.

A condition commonly known as Big sister syndrome.

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