Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Soylent Vaccines are Made Out of People!

Jenny McCarthy, mom-celebre and current pin-up girl for the anti-vaccination movement, is descending on Washington DC today for a 'Green Our Vaccines' rally. There's been some buzz in the skeptical blogosphere about the rally, most notably Orac (of course) with a discussion about the Orwellian nature of the new slogan.

The Green Our Vaccines campaign isn't about making vaccines more environmentally friendly, it's about removing toxins. Anti-vaxers, beginning to realize that their former pet thimerosal isn't a vaccine hazard, have moved to the more nebulous 'toxins' as the real danger of vaccines. Their list:It's easy to pick apart this list (sucrose in vaccines is a toxin?), as some people have done. Some of that list probably isn't even present in more than trace amounts: fetal bovine serum, for example, is a cell culture supplement for growing cells to produce vaccine not an additive to the vaccines, and it's purified out. Anti-vaxers are eager to blur the line between vaccine ingredients and components of vaccine production.

One of the items on the list is human diploid cells (from aborted fetal tissue). Sometimes this is listed simply as aborted fetal tissue. While it's understandable that people might not want to inject themselves with aborted fetal tissue (though, I'm not sure it's necessarily toxic), there are still a couple of problems with that inclusion on the list:

1) Vaccine makers aren't grinding up aborted fetuses and injecting them. Nor are they generating new fetal cell lines from them every time a vaccine is made. The 'human diploid cells (from aborted fetal tissue)' are one of two cell lines derived in the 60s and 70s: WI-38 and MRC-5.

2) These cell lines aren't ingredients. They are used to produce viruses used for vaccines. They are removed during the production process (a simple spin will separate the cells from the virus-rich supernatant, which is then further processed). That needs to be stressed, because it applies to many of the "toxins" on the list: tools used for production of vaccines aren't ingredients.

Of course there is a potential moral objection to the use of aborted fetal cells in production, even if they aren't in the vaccine itself. The Catholic Church, for example, encourages the use of alternative vaccines where they exist and to press pharmaceutical companies to develop such alternatives. However even the Church, which is normally rigid in its stance, allows the use of vaccines derived from fetal cells in the absence of an alternative. This is made clear in their official position: "we find, in such a case, a proportional reason, in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favouring the spread of the pathological agent, due to the lack of vaccination of children." They go even further than this with regards to the German measles vaccine, adding
This is particularly true in the case of vaccination against German measles, because of the danger of Congenital Rubella Syndrome. This could occur, causing grave congenital malformations in the foetus, when a pregnant woman enters into contact, even if it is brief, with children who have not been immunized and are carriers of the virus. In this case, the parents who did not accept the vaccination of their own children become responsible for the malformations in question, and for the subsequent abortion of foetuses, when they have been discovered to be malformed.
That having been said, the stand taken by the 'Green Our Vaccines' group does not seem to stem from moral objections, but rather they're clear that it's about the fearful toxins. It seems that they're either unsure of how vaccines are produced or willfully misusing charged words (eg. aborted human fetus) to drum up vaccine opposition.

Soylent green may be made out of people, but vaccines aren't.


Anonymous said...

You make some excellent points. However Jenny McCarthy is exceedingly hot, pretty much trumping anything you have to say. Unless, of course, you were also once Playmate of the Year.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Once Playmate of the Year? Time matters, dude.

Bayman said...

I think it's good for people to question what's being injected into their bodies. In part, this rise in concern over vaccines might be attributed to an increasingly educated and aware public. Similar to things like the organic food movement. Also, the need for many types of vaccines is not necessarily what it once was at they time they were introduced. (ie, you don't need to get vaccinated against smallpox anymore because it's been eradicated). So, as reward changes, it's a good thing to continually reassess whether accepting the risk of injecting your kids with foreign substances of questionable safety is still justified.

Vaccines are certainly not "pure". They undoubtedly contain varying concentrations of each and every one of the listed components of the manufacturing process. Many are toxic at certain concentrations. It is not hard to imagine that many of these ingredients could stimulate allergic or autoimmune reactions.

What people need to know is what dose of these things are they getting in their vaccines, and are any vaccine ingredients harmful at these concentrations?

Writing them off as "trace" contaminants is not good enough. A lot of things are very powerful and/or harmful in "trace" quantities.

kamel said...

I agree with your general principle about questioning, being aware of what is being injected, and risk/reward evaluation. However, groups like the one being discussed aren't about awareness, they're about ending a safe and reliable medical practice. And the way they go about it is not educated. They aren't asking "Fetal cells are used to produce vaccines. To what degree are they still present in the final formulation? Is that amount a safety concern?" Rather, they're digging for a list of scary sounding things and insisting these 'toxins' be removed. While they're 'educating' themselves about the components, trace or otherwise, of vaccines it's very easy to find out adverse reaction rates and safe doses for many of those components. That's not what they're interested in.

It is not hard to imagine that many of these ingredients could stimulate allergic or autoimmune reactions.
What people need to know is what dose of these things are they getting in their vaccines, and are any vaccine ingredients harmful at these concentrations?

One doesn't need to imagine anything. Vaccines have a long, well documented history of use. Allergic potential is known (for example, the MMR vaccine has an allergic reaction rate of fewer than 1 in 1 million). Potential adverse reactions are known. Vaccines go through clinical trials to make sure the vaccine and it's components aren't harmful in their current formulations. (It's probably also worth pointing out that 'trace' in this context doesn't simply mean 'a small amount' but 'present in quantities less than a standard limit'.)

So what we're left with is risk/reward. Is the <1:1000000 risk of a severe reaction worth the reward of a population free from measles (and its fatality rate of 1:1000)?

But that's not the question the Green Vaccine people are asking. They're not asking questions at all.

Bayman said...

However, groups like the one being discussed aren't about awareness, they're about ending a safe and reliable medical practice.

Since you seem convinced that Green our Vaccines movement is motivated by some sort of malevolent intent, I was curious to know what they are about. Here's what I found:

"Jenny and Jim are working hard to eliminate all toxins from our children's vaccines and have our national health agencies reassess the mandatory vaccine schedule, as our children are receiving TOO MANY, TOO SOON. While Jenny and Jim support the vaccine program, like many, they feel vaccines are too toxic."


"Demand Congress take action to Green Our Vaccine Supply while reassessing our current vaccine schedule. Ask Congress to reenact legislation that would eliminate mercury and other toxins from our children's vaccines, study the instance of Autism and other neurological disorders in vaccinated versus unvaccinated children, and to extend the statute of limitations to allow all children affected by vaccine induced Autism to file in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP)"

This raises two questions:

a) What's the problem with their stated goals, which mainly center around minimizing exposure to potentially toxic substances in vaccines?

More importantly (since you bring it up),
b) What is the group's motivation for pursuing these objectives?

kamel said...

To answer your questions:
a) Jenny McCarthy's vaccine activism has a longer history than the one rally, and has always been about a vaccine-autism link (as is mentioned in the second statement you quoted). Those studies have been done. Repeatedly. Stated goals are nice, and of course I have no problem with the stated goal of safer vaccines. Who would be against that? But do the actions reflect those of someone who says they aren't against vaccines? Saying that you're for vaccines while simultaneously saying that pediatricians are breaking their Hippocratic oath when administering them, that vaccines are just a big pharma money grab and claiming that the combinations given have never been tested for safety is a confusing message, to say the least. Signs claiming that vaccines are toxic waste or weapons of mass destruction are, being charitable, vastly overstating their case. Shouting 'Fur is Murder' is anti-fur, not pro-humane fur.

b) I don't have an answer. Maybe the controversy she's stirring is driving sales of her book? More likely, as the mother of an autistic child, she is looking for someone to blame or (misguidedly) trying to prevent the same thing from happening to other parents. I have no idea what McCarthy's motivation is, so anything I say is pure speculation. What I do know is that a vaccine-autism link is unsupported, that vaccines are effective and are much safer than the diseases they prevent.