An Apple a Day Won’t Do Shit Against Smallpox

Greetings one and all! As the fan(s) of this blog know, last night was the 87th Oscars Ceremony, and I watched it and want to talk about it real bad. However, I have blabbered about Oscar stars and snubs more than enough in the past weeks, so I’m going to do my best to return to my scientific and social roots for the sake of educating and bringing awareness to the masses (although I will say that I’m glad a film as creative and crazy as Birdman won Best Picture). Today’s first topic is one that’s been bandied about on the news a lot recently, and I think it’s got a pretty clear cut solution, so I’m going to explain my position as simply and politely as I can then springboard to another issue of concern in the same field. Without further ado, here is the first of two humorous videos starring Brian Huskey (you’ll be like, “Oh! That’s that guy’s name,” when you see him) to kick off the discussion.

First, If Google Was A Guy (Part 3). As you can see, Google Guy’s (Huskey) frustration is mounting because of the stupid things people request him to search for. By the time this third installment in the College Humor series kicks off, he’s kind of losing it. There are many ridiculous queries presented to him, but the one that stands out above (or maybe below?) all the others is this one regarding a connection between vaccines and autism.

[Deep sigh] Ugh. God fucking damn it. My greatest frustrations from people turning a blind eye to science, empirical evidence, and common sense are regarding the denials of the theory of evolution by means of natural selection and anthropogenic climate change, yet nothing makes me roll my eyes like the ridiculous, unfounded, and disproved notion that vaccines somehow inflict autism. You know what happens when you get a vaccine? Your immune system gets a stronger resistance to the disease the vaccine is made for, or rather from. A vaccine is produced from the weakened form of the thing that causes a disease or something closely related to it. For example, a smallpox vaccine is crafted from a related “pox” virus called vaccinia that does not cause smallpox. When given, this smallpox vaccine helps your body build an immunity to the smallpox virus. The vaccinia acts as an antigen (short for antibody generator) that your antibodies target and eventually adapt an immunity to so that if the body encounters the actual pathogen (in this case the smallpox virus) in the future it can send specific antibodies to destroy it and keep you disease-free.

Smallpox in cows (called Variolae vaccinae which is where the term vaccine originated; vacca is Latin for cow) was the first disease a vaccine was made for back in 1798 by Dr. Edward Jenner. Thanks to the widespread administration of the smallpox vaccine decades ago, smallpox has been eradicated throughout the world. Like Stan and Randy Marsh’s money in their bank accounts during the American bank bailouts a few years ago, thanks to the vaccine taken to prevent it we can safely declare that there once was a global presence of smallpox aaaaaand it’s gone.

We don’t need to get smallpox vaccines anymore because we got rid of it through the effective use of smallpox vaccines. Sadly, measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) which are related and prevented by the same vaccine commonly given when you are one year old, are not only still around, but they are still spreading more than Disney magic in the United States because of people ignorantly and staunchly against the vaccine (and other vaccines) who refuse to let their children be given it. These people are called anti-vaxxers, though I have some other terms I use to identify them that I will not list here (the word “stupid” is common among them, as are choicer words). The anti-vaccination movement against vaccines stems from a 1998 paper by former medical researcher Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield contended that the MMR vaccine could cause autism and gastrointestinal disease in those who received it. This was later discovered to be totally bogus when other medical researchers could not reproduce Wakefield’s results. Furthermore, Wakefield’s co-authors jumped ship and denounced the study, especially when investigative journalist Brian Deer discovered Wakefield had performed unethical tests on autistic children and also had “undisclosed financial conflicts of interest”. Such an interest does not mix with objective scientific research (we’ll get back to this in a bit), nor does casting ethics to the wind, so Wakefield’s claim was deemed fraudulent and his medical practice and research were shut down by the United Kingdom Medical Registry.

I wonder how many anti-vaxxers would refuse an Ebola vaccine or an HIV vaccine if they existed (some exciting research going on right now). Perhaps if smallpox was as prevalent today as it once was and people were dying from it at an alarming rate, then maybe more than a few anti-vaxxers would change their tune. I don’t want to have some medical epidemic be the death of the anti-vaccination movement because that means it will be accompanied with the actual deaths of far too many people – deaths that could have been prevented. I want anti-vaxxers to actually do their research and study up on what they clearly do not understand before condemning vaccines and getting swept up in the fearful words of other medically unqualified people who have come to an ignorant and harmful conclusion. If you want to learn more about preventable diseases and their vaccines check out these WHO and CDC pages.

I’m no doctor, but if you honestly believe that vaccinations cause autism, then you aren’t either (unless you’re a doctor in the sense that Dr. Phil is a doctor). Correlation does not imply causation, and vaccines do not cause autism – end of story.

It’s also important to note that it’s necessary for you and your children to still get vaccinated against MMR and other infectious diseases even though other people have already received the vaccine. Unlike smallpox, diseases like measles are still around, and they can still infect people who have received a vaccination against them if the disease mutates inside an unvaccinated human host. So forgoing the vaccination puts more than just yourself at risk – just ask those people at Disneyland who had received the MMR vaccine.

If you’re still confused why so many people refuse vaccines, then check out SciShow’s Science of Anti-Vaccination. Hank and the gang present a better, less angry explanation than I can.

Unfortunately, there are reasons to be skeptical of doctors and what they prescribe for you, which leads us to our second major point made via video: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Marketing to Doctors. Hey, that doctor in the ending skit was played by what’s-his-name! Also, that doctor was prescribing medication to patients not because they needed it but because the company that produced it paid him to push their product. Pretty eye-opening stuff, especially seeing that marketing from drug companies accounts for a staggering amount of money – approximately $4 billion on us the consumers and $24 billion on our doctors and health care providers – not to mention that these companies’ marketing budgets are often larger than their research and development budgets!

If you want to look up your doctor(s) and see what they’ve potentially been paid for in the past you can check out the Open Payments Data page Oliver talked about in the video. Apparently my primary physician is a $10 lunch man at best to a few drug companies, but that’s probably for the better for me and his other patients.

I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about the Oscars, but there is an Oscar-winning movie that actually has a surprising amount of relevance to this issue. The film is The Fugitive (1993) starring Harrison Ford as a desperate man (it is a specialty of his) wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and Tommy Lee Jones (the man responsible for the lone Oscar the movie won) being awesome. It’s based on the popular 1960s television show of the same name and draws upon the same basic setup, but the movie adds in an expose` of the pharmaceutical drug industry’s desire to make money more than to protect people as a critical plot point. It’s more entertaining to me than a serious investigative documentary on the same subject (the drug industry thing, not the framed doctor chased by a relentless marshal thing), but no matter how you come to realize the incredible effect that money and marketing play in the United States health care system, be sure that you verify that you have qualified and honest people looking after your health needs and that you do everything you can for your well-being and the well-being of the rest of us too. Long story short: you may not need that multicolored pill with the pretty people and cute cartoon characters advertising it during your favorite show, but you should get your MMR vaccine.

Thanks for reading! I hope you will be willing to ask questions and do your homework about what is best regarding your health and the health of others. If you have questions about today’s post or suggestions for what I should write about in the future, comment below or email me at Flee back here next week for more enthralling and educational words of wisdom. Or whatever I produce next Monday. Oh, and call your parents or J.K. Simmons will slap you.

Bum badumbum bumbumbum,


P.S. Fuck Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy, as well as all those pharmaceutical company pill pushers who want your cha-ching more than your good health.

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