Vaccines take a shot

by admin on December 1, 2009

Our Skeptic Check program that includes an interview with Pediatritian Paul Offit about the safety of vaccines went out just last night and has already generated responses in our email inbox and on Facebook. In general, people feel that vaccines are safe and important – but there is a lingering mistrust of the industry behind them. Below is a letter from one listener and the response from Paul Offit. You can hear the show at: Vaccines: Give ‘Em Your Best Shot.

Dear AWA,
I want you to know how much I enjoy the show you folks put together every week. I was pleased that you took on the vaccine controversy. There have been people in my life who believed the autism canard and I found it impossible to reason with them. I’m writing because I think you came up short in your discussion of why these attitudes exist…

Paul Offit’s reply:
While I certainly agree that pharmaceutical companies have acted aggressively, unethically and even illegally (witness the recent Pfizer settlement) regarding the sale and promotion of drugs, I just don’t see where this applies to vaccines…

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jeff in Dallas December 6, 2009 at 10:01 pm


No we shouldn't include people that die from cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in swine flu count. That's ridiculous. I want to know about healthy people that get the H1N1 virus and how they fare. That provides all the information I need to decide whether or not to get the vaccine.

I'm with the original poster on this one. Automobile deaths are 30 times greater this year than swine flu. The swine flu thing has been waaaaaay overblown.

avatar Ren December 7, 2009 at 3:58 am

@Jeff – I think we are talking about two different aspects, then. On the one hand, the subjective component to the statistics. It is your opinion that it is "ridiculous", but say that to the face of someone with HIV/AIDS who gets the flu and almost dies, or the parent of a child with Asthma who got the flu and died. Does it really matter to them where they're counted? Not much.
Then there's the objective component, the fact is that the counting is done that way. Another fact is that most of the people who get sick don't get tested, and, if they do get tested, the laboratory or physician do not report the test. Influenza disease and death, after all, are not in the national list of reportable diseases. Auto accident deaths somehow attract more attention.
As an Epidemiologist, and someone who has interviewed people who have lost loved ones to the flu (and other vaccine-preventable diseases), I can tell you that there is something to be said about the response: Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Had we done nothing, you and Bill would have asked why not. Because we did do something, we get a small "thanks" from people and families who got the information they needed to act.
It's all in the eye of the beholder… Better known as "Surveillance Bias".

avatar bill morancy December 7, 2009 at 4:26 am

I'm beginning to wonder about Ren and his as-an-epidemiologist pose. Could be a paid troll for Big Pharma.

Because "Ren," as an epidemiologist you should be aware that CBS reported that in the third week of July the CDC ordered states to stop reporting individual cases of H1N1 virus. In a rare example of real investigative journalism CBS contacted the various states and discovered that the vast majority of cases that had been reported as flu weren't…in fact they weren't even flu. The actual H1N1 incidence was less than 3% of reported cases. Fear, panic and an excess of caution had skewed the original reporting.

So my comment that autos were more deadly than this imaginary epidemic is true. And Big Pharma made huge profits selling drugs that weren't needed.

The only thing epidemic in the medical field is corruption. As-an-epidemiologist shame on you for trying to cover up that most inconvenient truth.

Bill Morancy

avatar Ren December 7, 2009 at 5:54 am

@Bill – We're not going to solve anything here, no matter what I tell you. You're convinced of all these conspiracies, and you have a right to be as such. You can Google my name, "Rene Najera", and see that I am not in with "Big Pharma" or have any other conflicts of interest. Of course, it doesn't matter what I write because that's how conspiracies work.
At any rate, this is all I have to write about this on this blog. You can continue your personal attacks toward me over on my own: blog[dot]epiren[dot]com

avatar Jeff in Dallas December 7, 2009 at 7:41 pm

OK Ren, I get what you're saying. I know nothing about historical epidemiological statistical methods and if that's the usual method then maybe its not as ridiculous as it appears to me.

I'm an environmental chemist and spend my days supervising a lab that tests for toxic chemicals in soil, water, tissue and other matrices. I'm well aware of the toxicity of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury. The EPA sets the exposure limit for mercury at 0.1 ug per kg of body weight

The flu vaccine contains a mercury preservative that breaks down immediately into ethyl mercury in the body. The amount of mercury in one adult dose of flu vaccine is about 12 ug. For an average size adult that is a mercury dose of about 0.16 ug per kg. That exceeds the EPA guideline for mercury exposure (even before including environmental mercury exposure and food mercury exposure).

I will not take a direct injection of methyl mercury into my body in this circumstance. I'd rather have the flu. If there was a true epidemic of deadly disease then I would accept the mercury risk but its not worth it to avoid having the sniffles and a fever.

avatar Ren December 7, 2009 at 7:49 pm

"its not worth it to avoid having the sniffles and a fever"

I guess Walter Brooks, 19, ( died from just the sniffles and a fever.

Would you like to tell his parents how ridiculous his death was? Because he has a facebook page where you can go unleash all the stuff you've unleashed on me… (

Go tell them how this is all Big Pharma. Tell them how it's just "a disease which has claimed fewer lives than the automobile".

You wanted to know about healthy people who get it and how they fare. There you go. There's Walter, bright, young, healthy. Go be smug to all his friends and loved ones…

avatar Jeff in Dallas December 7, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Ren, I didn't intend to offend you and stated in the first line of my post that I get what you're saying and admitted I was probably wrong on the topic of under reporting flu deaths.

As an aside I found at the CDC website best estimate numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths attributed to H1N1 in the US. They report 22 million cases of infection with 98,000 hospitalizations and 3,900 deaths after applying an "under reporting multiplier". That's less than 0.5% of all infections result in hospitalization and less than 0.02% result in death (mostly in elderly and other vulnerable groups). The majority infected with H1N1 never sought out treatment and turned out fine. Based on those statistics I weigh the risks and my decision is not to go with a vaccine that puts an amount of mercury deemed unsafe by the EPA into my body. I'll stick with seafood to get my unfortunate dosage of mercury.

avatar Lourdes / Hypatia December 12, 2009 at 11:15 am

To all of the ones who are against the vaccines I ask how many of you are still alive today thanks to being vaccinated when you were infant?

You might ask your parents about it if you don't recall anything…and maybe start talking to your own parents why they vaccined you and also wonder how many of your friends and coleages right now are autistic or mercury poisoned…

avatar Anonymous December 13, 2009 at 4:22 am


I can only speak for myself in providing the answer to your question. I am not against vaccines but rather against the mercury preservative used in them. The mercury is unnecessary and thankfully no longer used in certain versions of the same vaccines. You wonder how many of our friends and colleagues right now are autistic or mercury poisoned. The answer is over two million people in the US and increasing at a rate of 15% per year. Far too many.

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