Two interesting, upbeat vaccine-related pieces in the news over the weekend reveal how much good a billionaire can do, even if he’s a billionaire whose business practices have excited a lot of mistrust and loathing. The Gates Foundation’s decision to go into vaccines in a big way, with a $750 million down commitment in 1999, was kind of the tipping point that seems, for the moment at least, to have transformed vaccines from a loss leader of the pharmaceutical industry into something that can provide decent bucks for the drug companies while saving millions of lives.
January 29, 2007
January 25, 2007
Here is my editorial on vaccination from this morning's New York Times. A quick run through the concept of herd immunity, and a quick shot in the arm for flu vaccination.
January 24, 2007
To change the subject from thimerosal for a moment, in today's Washington Post, Courtland Milloy goes off against making the human papilloma virus vaccine mandatory. Milloy argues, in his usual competent and convincing way, that it would be better if the D.C., Virginia and Maryland governments--among at least 10 states currently considering making the HPV shot mandatory for pre-teen girls--encouraged people to get their daughters vaccinated against the virus, rather than acting like "some antebellum massa" by forcing the vaccine down their throats, or rather jamming it into their daughter's arms.
Who can argue with this noble liberal sentiment? Me, for one
January 20, 2007
At this point, it's safe to say, most people in the United States have not been on the receiving end of midnight vaccination raids, with doctors breaking into their homes and jabbing their families with needles. It's been a long time since we saw entire cities flattened by disease. So long, in fact, that lessons from those days seem to have been lost on a few generations.We're in the midst of a confused national debate over vaccines, with some fearing immunization side effects more than the diseases they fight, and others pushing for more vaccines, at younger ages, and being baffled when parents object. Newspapers report that vaccines may or may not cause autism, autoimmune diseases, and allergies; at the same time, they warn of viral pandemics that can (and do) kill millions, and call for new vaccines to save us (from, say, AIDS, or avian flu). But when those new vaccines arrive and officials say we must give them to our children, we balk. This is nothing new: The vaccine debate has been raging for hundreds of years, because immunizations have a long and complicated history of both saving our lives and hurting us. We needed a book that laid out the history and made sense of it. There have been at least twenty books on smallpox and polio alone. But until Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver, by the science journalist Arthur Allen, no book had so carefully and clearly catalogued the history of immunization.
--Rebecca Skloot, February 2007
THE history of vaccines is full of unexpected twists. While immunisation experts may feel they do not need journalist Arthur Allen to urge them to remember such twists, and will certainly reject suggestions that polio eradication diverts resources from more important goals, this is a well-researched portrayal of immunisation, from the earliest pioneers to an arm of preventive medicine now thoroughly entangled in politics, commerce and public relations. A vivid corrective to the idealised, wholly triumphant version of the development of vaccines.
--Bernard Dixon, Jan. 20, 2007
January 19, 2007
On Jan. 13 in San Diego, I debated author David Kirby over his hypothesis that a mercury-containing vaccine preservative had caused an epidemic of autism. David insists that he isn't wedded to his narrative--that indifferent drug companies and careless government officials poisoned a generation of children by putting mercury in their vaccines until courageous citizen moms and doctors stood up and blew the whistle. But he certainly does his damnedest to push the thesis in the face of opposing evidence.
DK has sold the rights to his book to Participant Productions, makers of "Syriana" and other marquee films, and I presume that if the hypothesis doesn't fly, neither does the movie. A film that handled the thimerosal story as a fabulously marketed but eventually discarded scientific hypothesis would probably be more interesting than, say, "A Civil Action," but I doubt it would get financing.