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Anti-vaxxers should be tarred and feathered…

Tanaquil Le Clercq, Principal dancer with NYCB. Her career was tragically cut short by polio in 1956.

…and run out of town on a rail.

I can’t believe how so many allegedly “educated” people are refusing to vaccinate their kids. We’re not talking just about measles. We’re talking about polio too. Polio is not like smallpox. It hasn’t been eradicated. If people are able to spread measles around, it won’t be long before there’s a polio epidemic with the shriveled limbs to go with it. Isolating anti-vaxxers from social gatherings might be the only way to get through to them.

But the growth of the anti-vax crowd is very disturbing. Following up on the post last night about how scientists think differently, I get the feeling that people who make money are so valued and scientists less valued that our credibility has taken a hit. It doesn’t help that the industry I used to work for has fueled this distrust by looking out for shareholders at the expense of everyone else. That is not to say that it has been deliberately manufacturing shoddy products. I don’t believe that and as long as we have a strong FDA, we shouldn’t have to worry. But the price gouging is hard to ignore and that makes people suspicious, especially when it’s combined with mass marketing that includes 30 seconds of side effect information. I’m going to bet that most people don’t look up the information on the drugs they take and don’t know which side effects are common, rare or dangerous. It all sounds extremely dangerous to the average person.

And then the industry asks parents to inject stuff into their kids without giving them a crash course in immunology so they can see just how beneficial the vaccination is and how it works.

So, maybe all the people who are defending the excessive amounts of money spent on marketing at the expense of R&D should sit down and think about this for a few minutes. Maybe marketing is the problem here, even if we’re not talking specifically about vaccinations on TV.

Marketing has its place. Fundraising is a good place for marketing. Selling pharmaceuticals and vaccinations, ehhhh, not so much. Too much information, presented without qualification, may just be too much scary information. The industry needs to fix this fast.

21 Responses

  1. I see this sort of thing primarily as a side-effect of the corporate takeover of science over the past few decades—the currency of science has become debased in the public mind, and we’re seeing a sort of epistemological hyperinflation as a result.

    • I think you’re on to something. In modern America, success is based on how much money you make, not on the type of work you do. Scientists are both revered and dismissed. Even the best, smartest, most innovative PhDs make less money that the director of purchasing. In other words, an mba, essentially a bs with a couple years of statistics and management courses has better prestige than the guy in the lab tasked with curing cancer and was nearly 30 before he was done with his education. The Mba has been earning money longer, probably has more assets and has a more direct toe in the corporate money stream.
      I have been to meetings when the purchasing people openly sneered at a phd who asked what the initials SAP stood for. There’s no call for that level of disrespect but that’s pretty typical. If you aren’t saving shareholders money, what good are you?

      • Essentially the problem is that laypeople don’t have the resources themselves to evaluate the validity of scientific claims, and so have to rely on the integrity of the scientific profession as a whole.

        If e.g. pharma companies make a habit of suppressing results they don’t like, (the Nancy Olivieri case being a particularly appalling example that I recall) then people will begin flailing around trying to determine what authorities they can trust and which they can’t. In such a void of confidence all manner of crankery can flourish.

        • Don’t mistake the actors. R&D professionals have no influence over what gets suppressed. Those decisions, If they being made at the frequency you seem to suspect (I do not) are made by business school graduates.
          In pharmaceutical companies, there are parallel hierarchies of responsibility and management. It usually breaks into three strands that i could see. There’s an R&D strand, an IT strand and a corporate management strand. The person with agency is usually in the corporate strand but he/she is so far up the strand that there’s almost zero possibility of a fairly well informed R&D person having much effect on what gets suppressed or reported.
          It was one of the names of my existence. I had to deal with IT borgs all the time but the person who could actually make the decision to let my comp chemistry group order Linux workstations instead of windows workstations was like seven layers up where someone in R&D could maybe sorta bring up the subject with a corporate manager to bypass IT. But by the time the info got up to that level, no one had a firm grasp as to WHY it was necessary for the comp Chem group to defy IT standards. The conversation probably went nowhere. In fact, why even bring it up? It’s just going to get an R&D manager into trouble. And with the game of employment musical chairs in full swing over the past decade, it’s usually best not to rock the boat.
          But that doesn’t mean the people actually doing the research have any incentive to fudge anything. They didn’t.
          I think people are incorrectly pinning on scientists what should be pinned on corporate finance types.
          And I have no idea who nancy olivieri is.

        • Ok, I looked up nancy olivieri. Here has been my own experience: I was in early discovery R&D, not clinical. However, every year I worked for my last company, I had to go thru training on mandatory reporting of adverse reactions. Yes, they took this VERY seriously. Let’s say you and I were at a dinner party and asked me what I did and I say, “I work for bladiblah pharma. They’re the ones who make spleenofinib” and you say, “oh, I take that when I have an attack of flarengironitis but lately, it has been making my hair fall out”, I would have something like 24 hours to file an adverse drug reaction that would be transmitted to the FDA. It was strongly emphasized that I could get in trouble if I didn’t report it and it was later discovered that I knew about it and said nothing. And it didn’t matter how trivial the adverse reaction seemed to be or whether or not the reaction was in any way related to the drug jn question. It wasn’t my job to run the statistics or find a correlation. And it also didn’t matter how far down the food chain I was. Collecting this information was extremely important. I took it seriously.

  2. Say what you will about me, but I’ve read the information out there and weighed every option, so I am confident in my choice to revive a debilitating illness that was long ago declared dead and let it spread like wildfire from school to school, town to town, and state to state, until it reaches every corner of the country. Leaving such a momentous decision to someone you haven’t even met and who doesn’t care about your child personally—now that’s absurd! Maybe I choose to bring back the mumps. Or maybe it’s diphtheria. Or maybe it’s some other potentially fatal disease that can easily pass among those too young or too medically unfit to be vaccinated themselves. But whichever highly communicable and formerly wiped-out disease that I opt to resurrect with a vengeance, it is a highly personal decision that only I and my family have the liberty to make.

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/i-dont-vaccinate-my-child-because-its-my-right-to,37839/

    • Lol!
      Wait, that’s not funny.
      Hey, are you commenting from your slick new iPad?

      • Yes, which is why I didn’t post any comment with that. Typing is a PAIN on the iPad.

        The Onion has been targeting the Anti-Vax thing lately. That’s not even the post I was looking for. I’ll go back and try to find that one now that I’m on a real computer.

        • You’ll get used to typing on the iPad. I found one finger per hand touch typing on it to be the most effective method. Don’t bother trying to do the typing course asdf thing. It just doesn’t work very well.
          Like all new things, it will take a few days for you to adjust.

          • It’s not just the typing. It’s fitting it into my work flow. And how to best use it. What apps I need vs what should just be accessed on the web.

            There’s a learning curve….

  3. And adding to the whole issue is the fact that our health care system is a total mess.

  4. I think you’ve made a really insightful observation here. Marketing powerful pharmaceuticals to the general public in the same way toothpaste is marketed has always seemed dangerous and stupid to me.

    The problem, of course, is that the industry won’t fix this, because the industry is run by MBAs with no science background who think of medicines as just another class of “widget” whose sales can always be improved with a good (or bad) marketing campaign. It’s an article of faith in the B-school world that managers don’t need to know anything about the businesses they run (seriously).

    I’m old enough to (sort of) remember polio. I was in the first cohort to receive mass vaccination with the Salk vaccine. All through school, I remember quite well that there were always a few kids senior to me in leg braces – and none in my class or any of the classes younger than me. Of course I never saw the ones who died or were completely disabled. I remember parents still being afraid to let their kids swim in the summertime for feat of polio.

    You’d have to be insane to risk that or worse on the say-so of an ignorant, uninformed lunatic like Jenny McCarthy.

  5. Marketing is all in our weird world. Propaganda=Profits. A side effect of the hot air that keeps the corrupt Big Pharma balloon aloft is to inadvertantly (?) smear and disdane the work of the scientists who actually know something. Add to that the foolishness, ignorance and gullibility of the general population, well, there you jolly well are. There is no vaccination against this kind of stupidity.

  6. By the way, I think tarring and feathering is probably the wrong remedy – mainly because I think tar and feathers don’t do anything to halt the spread of dangerous pathogens. Lifetime quarantine, however, seems both appropriate and efficacious.

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