Thursday, May 14, 2015

In Remembrance of Lilady


A friend and fellow skeptic known as "Lilady" has passed away leaving a huge hole in our hearts and on the internet.   She was an omnipresent voice on numerous blogs and articles regarding vaccines and autism and will be sorely missed.

Lilady had a severely developmentally and medically disabled son whom she cared for with the deepest love and commitment I have ever known.  She became a fierce opponent of state mental institutions that cruelly warehoused special needs people and fought tirelessly for their closure.  She was the original Mother Warrior.  Through her trials and tribulations along with other parents of special needs children, she "adopted" the son of a friend whom she helped care for until Lilady passed away.

Lilady's advocacy extended to the internet where she was a prolific commenter on vaccine and autism articles.  She fearlessly questioned dubious stories, provided sound evidence to support her claims and was never intimidated by anyone.  Her decades-long expertise as a public health nurse along with her experience with special needs children and adults and fierce passion made her a formidable foe of anti-science purveyors.

Our thoughts are with her and her family and hope they know how appreciated, respected and missed their Lilady will always be.

Monday, February 23, 2015

18 month old, unvaccinated, previously healthy toddler dies of measles in Berlin outbreak

Berlin, Germany's capital, has seen a very large measles outbreak on the past months. Since October 2014, 574 measles cases had been reported.

Today, the Berlin health senator confirmed that on 18 February 2015, an 18 month old toddler, who had not been vaccinated against measles, and did not have any chronic disease, died after having been treated for measles infection in the Charité hospital for 5 days. While the child was vaccinated against some diseases, according to the German media, he had not received the recommended MMR. In Germany, the first MMR is usually given between 11 and 14 months and the second is recommended between 15 and 24 months.

Over the past couple of years, discussions about mandatory vaccination had come up in Germany, some child care centers had begun to only accept vaccinated children, and discussions are unlikely to subside now. The question is whether parents, who are already afraid/suspect of the government could be convinced by a mandate - suggestions are welcome how to reach them better.

Meanwhile, our heartfelt thoughts go to the boy's family and everyone whose lives he touched. Another preventable measles death too many.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Measles Vaccines (MMR and MMRV) Protect Against Measles


Photo: http://imgbuddy.com/measles-virus-picture.asp


A new anti-vaxx myth has surfaced which seems to have been developed as a result of my recent blogpost Disneyland Measles Outbreak is Due to Measles which discussed the measles genotype responsible (hint: it wasn't the vaccine strain).  Some, with no knowledge of virology nor immunology are spreading the myth that since the measles strain in the MMR vaccine is genotype A that it couldn't possibly protect against measles genotype B3 which is the genotype responsible for the latest U.S. outbreak and has spread to Mexico and Canada.  I will discuss how and why MMR vaccines are cross-protective for wild-type measles strains.

First there is some terminology which must be understood to follow along:
Serotype: Microorganisms of the same species can be further divided into serotypes, serovars or sub-groups based upon their surface antigens.

Antigen: A structural protein on the surface of a pathogen that is able to recognise cell receptors on the surface of a host cell.  The antigen is also the part of the pathogen which provokes the host adaptive immune response that generates antibodies.

Epitope: The very specific part of the antigen which antibodies attach to.

Genotype: The nucleotide sequence of certain regions of a viral genome which classifies differences.

The measles virus has only one serotype and causes measles unlike Human Papillomavirus which has dozens of serotypes and can cause different diseases.  This is why we see multiple serotypes included in the HPV vaccine and only one strain in each of the available measles vaccines which are all genotype A.
Many of the attenuated strains in use are derived from the Edmonston strain isolated in 1954, including the Schwartz, the Edmonston-Zagreb, and the Moraten strains. Other strains which are not derived from Edmonston strain include the CAM-70, TD 97, Leningrad-16, and Shanghai 191 (Ji-191) strains.
Measles virus genotypes are based upon their nucleotide sequences at the least conserved regions of the viral genome:
Wild-type measles viruses have been divided into distinct genetic groups, referred to as genotypes, based on the nucleotide sequences of their hemagglutinin (H) and nucleoprotein (N) genes, which are the most variable genes on the viral genome.
The 450 nucleotides encoding the carboxy-terminal 150 amino acids of the nucleoprotein has up to 12% nucleotide variation between genotypes. The 450 nucleotides that encode the carboxy-terminal region of the nucleoprotein (N–450) are required for determination of the genotype. The measles genotyping protocol is available from CDC.

Photo: http://download.thelancet.com/images/journalimages/0140-6736/PIIS0140673610623525.gr3.lrg.jpg

What this means is that whenever a measles case occurs, a sample (throat or nasal swab) is taken from the patient, submitted to RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) which are molecular techniques to essentially isolate amplify the number of DNA copies so that they can be sequenced.  DNA sequencing determines the nucleotide sequences of specific genome regions and then compared to other isolates to see where the measles virus came from and also mutations that may have accumulated.

Recovered measles viruses are constantly monitored, tested and characterised to identify areas of the genome which may antigenically-drift.  Circulating measles viruses have also been tested against vaccine-derived antibodies to ensure vaccines will cross-protect against the numerous genotypes that are imported.  This is achieved through virus neutralisation assays for example.  This is a test that combines measles genotypes with serum samples of people either vaccinated or previously infected with wild-type measles to determine if antibody binding occurs.  A fluorescent tag is added and then the antibody-antigen complex is measured. Results of various assays demonstrate that vaccine-derived antibodies protect against many different measles genotypes:
The serum samples from recently vaccinated persons neutralized both the Moraten and Chicago-I viruses equally well (table 1): There was a less than 2-fold difference in neutralization titers. In contrast, serum samples from persons with a recent wild type infection were able to detect antigenic differences between the viruses. Sera in this set had neutralization titers against Chicago-l that were 4-8 times higher (average, 5.1) than the titers against the vaccine strain.
Very specific antibodies called monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) are also developed and tested against measles viruses including the vaccine strains to monitor vaccine efficacy and antigenic drift of measles genotypes:
Overall, the antigenic data indicated that some epitopes have been conserved between the vaccine strain and the recent wild type viruses, while others are unique to the recent wild type virus. The H and F proteins are responsible for the induction of a neutralizing antibody response to measles virus. Therefore, the antigenic differences were most likely due to variation in these surface glycoproteins. 

Protection against the current circulation measles genotype, B3 has been elucidated.  In other words, studies have been and are conducted to test antibodies derived from vaccination against numerous wild-type measles viruses.  Measles genotype B3 which is the currently circulating strain in the U.S., is neutralised by vaccine-derived antibodies.  That, in turn, means that the virus can't bind to host (human) cell receptors and cause disease.
On the basis of the sequences of their N and H genes, MeVs can be assigned to 1 of 23 genotypes and 1 provisional genotype [11, 12]. All vaccine strains and their wild-type progenitors are assigned to genotype A. Experiments with monoclonal antibodies have defined antigenic differences between the H proteins of genotype A vaccines and the H proteins of wild-type viruses grouped in other genotypes [62, 188, 189]. However, there is only 1 serotype for measles, and serum samples from vaccinees neutralize viruses from a wide range of genotypes, albeit with different neutralization titers [188, 190] More importantly, despite the presence of different endemic genotypes, vaccination programs with standard measles vaccines have been successful in every country where they were performed adequately [191193]. Suboptimal seroconversion after vaccination is likely the result of inadequate coverage; improper administration, transport, or storage of vaccine; or age of the vaccine recipients [194196].
It's a bit of a complex issue to digest but some key points are that measles vaccines induce many different antibodies against measles antigens.  There is some antigenic drift that renders a single antibody insufficient binding to a single antigen from some wild-type measles viruses but over all, vaccines protect us from many different genotypes including the currently circulating B3 genotype. The epidemiology of the measles outbreak also demonstrates the effectiveness of the MMR vaccine.  To date there have been 141 cases confirmed (dozens more reported) by the CDC. Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known and this interactive graphic demonstrates how measles can spread in variable susceptible populations.  If the vaccine did not proffer cross-protection, there would be tens of thousands of cases to date.  Obviously this is not the case as the majority of cases are unvaccinated.

A more easily-digestible version of this has been posted at The Scientific Parent.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Your freedom of choice - somebody else's baby

I am having discussions with my non-vaccinating friend at the moment, who describes herself as "pro-choice" when it comes to vaccination. What seems absolutely impossible to grasp for vaccine refusers is that their choice makes other parents' children ill, and, potentially, kills them. The parents whose babies contract measles did NOT get a choice, NO say in their children's infection. That is the effect of vaccine refusal:

The below is Mobius - there are 24 hours between those pictures - the photographer, a friend of Mobius' family, Donavan Freberg, describes their feelings (shared from Refutations against Anti-Vaccine Memes page with kind permission of Mobius' mum):

This is Mobius Loop. He is the son of my dear friends Ariel Loop and Christopher Loop. He has measles. It was just confirmed. This is real, this is awful and these two photos are 24 hours apart. The good news? He's getting better. Quarantine ends tonight and the baby seems to be recovering well. The bad news? This was caused by one thing only, total and complete ignorance and selfishness of the anti-vaxxers. Because of people not vaccinating their kids (and when I say "people", I mean much of the upper crust westside of Los Angeles) this little sprout (who was too young to be protected) fell sick to a HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS epidemic that up until recently, had been a thing of the past. This is infuriating, sad and worst of all, needless. The Loops are dear friends, long time photo clients and informed, smart people. Ariel is a nurse. You don't just vaccinate your kids to protect them, you do it to protect other's who are too wee to get the shots. You are doing it as a selfless act. Please send good thoughts and prayers to this little muppet and to his parents, who are truly some of the best people I know.

Side note: I was scheduled to photograph this sweet everlasting gobstopper, but then this happened. I intend to photograph him the moment he has fully recovered and will be donating 100% of my shoot fees to charity to raise awareness of the necessity of vaccines. As a photographer, I must do everything within my power to document this and see that the awareness of this spreads faster than the disease in question. To all people reading this and for those who may be on the fence about vaccinating your kids, please, for Mobius and for all those who are affected by this terrible and PREVENTIBLE disease, DO IT. Vaccinate!!!! Don't even think twice. Just think.

ETA: Mobius' mum, Ariel, also weighs in:


I have a lot of mixed feelings right now, but ultimately I'm relieved that Mobius is doing so well. The horrific cough aside, he's doing way better than anyone expected at this point.
However, I'm furious that we're now part of the problem. While he's up to date with his vaccines, at 4 months he isn't old enough for the one that should have made this whole outbreak almost impossible. During the four days he was contagious before his rash appeared, we went out to eat twice, ran countless errands, and have potentially infected other kids who are too young to have to go through this. That kills me. And might kill one of them.
I understand that vaccines are scary. Having to hold him tight while a stranger hurts him is hard. Having three people hold him still to get the blood to test him for measles, however, was infinitely harder. Even at the time I had this passing thought of, "Am I being paranoid? Am I putting him through more trauma while he's sick for no reason?" I found myself almost hoping it was measles then so at least having to torture him would be "worth it."
It isn't, though. He shouldn't have had to go through any of it. I shouldn't have had to set alarms for myself in the middle of the night to make sure he was still breathing. It's bittersweet--I can't be as comforted by his recovery as it is clouded with guilt and fear that we might put another family through this.
Please, don't put other families through this.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Disneyland Measles Outbreak is Due to Measles

The current measles outbreak primarily emanating from Disneyland in California is up to 100 cases but not all are epidemiologically-linked to the Disneyland outbreak.  As is usual with measles outbreaks, most were completely unvaccinated, some were too young to be vaccinated.  There are numerous articles highlighting this well-known fact and that has anti-vaxxers on the defensive.  In fact, this screed by Laura Hayes appeared on the anti-vaxx, autism-hating blog Age of Autism:
1.  Has there been any laboratory confirmation of even one case of the supposed measles related to Disneyland?  If yes, was the confirmed case tested to determine whether it was wild-type measles or vaccine-strain measles?  If not, why not?  These are important questions to ask. Is it measles or not? If yes, what kind, because if it's vaccine-strain measles, then that means it is the vaccinated who are contagious and spreading measles resulting in what the media likes to label "outbreaks" to create panic (strange how they've completely missed the Autism outbreak going on for the past 25 years). It would be what one might call vaccine fallout.  People who receive live-virus vaccines, such as the MMR, can then shed that live virus, for up to many weeks...and can infect others.  Multiply that in your head by all of the people who receive not only the MMR live-virus vaccine, but many others. Other live-virus vaccines include the nasal flu vaccine, shingles vaccine rotavirus vaccine, chicken pox vaccine, and yellow fever vaccine.
That's right, apparently Laura Hayes is really good at asking the really dumb questions but not too adept at finding the answer before postulating what measles strain is circulating amongst those infected.  Hint: it isn't the vaccine strain.  This wasn't hard to find and is very specific about the genotypes:
Measles genotype information was available from 9 measles cases; all were genotype B3 and all sequences linked to this outbreak are identical. The sequences are also identical to the genotype B3 virus that caused a large outbreak in the Philippines in 2014. During the last 6 months, identical genotype B3 viruses were also detected in at least 14 countries and at least 6 U.S. states, not including those linked to the current outbreak.
And even more information regarding the differences in wild-type strains and vaccine-strains can be found here:

Genetic Characterization and Sequencing

Wild-type measles viruses have been divided into distinct genetic groups, referred to as genotypes, based on the nucleotide sequences of their hemagglutinin (H) and nucleoprotein (N) genes, which are the most variable genes on the viral genome.
The 450 nucleotides encoding the carboxy-terminal 150 amino acids of the nucleoprotein has up to 12% nucleotide variation between genotypes. The 450 nucleotides that encode the carboxy-terminal region of the nucleoprotein (N–450) are required for determination of the genotype. The measles genotyping protocol is available from CDC.
For each genotype, a reference strain is designated for use in genetic analysis (phylogenetic analysis), usually the earliest known virus isolation of that group. The means of referring to the genotypes has been standardized using alphabetical designations for the main groupings (clades). Within the main clades, numerals are added to identify the individual genotypes.
The following 19 genotypes have been detected since 1990:
A*, B2, B3, C1, C2, D2, D3, D4, D5, D6, D7, D8, D9, D10, D11, G2, G3, H1, H2
*Vaccine strains Moraten, Edmonston, Zagreb are all genotype A.
 There were 2 putative wild-type cases of measles identified as genotype A in 2008.
During 2011, 8 genotypes were identified by global surveillance:
B2, B3, D4, D8, D9, D11, G3, H1
Gosh that was simple.  Laura Hayes asks a lot more dumb questions and fills in the answers with her own fact-free assertions but there is too much stupid and not enough time to take them apart.  The important point here is that measles outbreaks are caused by measles viruses (not vaccine-strain) and a critical mass of anti-vaxxers clustering and causing large gaps in herd immunity. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

HPV Jab Not Responsible for Wisconsin Girl's Death

The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported yesterday that the medical examiner found Diphenhydramine intoxication caused the death of Meredith Prohaska, not HPV vaccination as her mother alleged.

A much-touted vaccine given to teens and preteens to prevent cancers caused by a sexually transmitted virus did not cause or contribute to the death of a 12-year-old Waukesha girl whose mother found her unresponsive in their home on July 30, the Waukesha County medical examiner said Wednesday.

Diphenhydramine intoxication — ingestion of a lethal level of an antihistamine — caused the death of Meredith Prohaska, though the manner of death is undetermined, Medical Examiner Lynda Biedrzycki said in a prepared statement.
"There is no evidence that any vaccination caused or contributed to her death," Biedrzycki said.

Diphenhydramine is a type of antihistamine found in various allergy and sleep medicines, including Benadryl, Tylenol PM, Nytol and Sominex, according to the National Institutes of Health. Overdose occurs when someone accidentally or intentionally takes more than the normal or recommended amount of a drug or medication.
Not having this information still caused the usual suspects to behave like slavering dogs with a piece of meat.  In fact one of those sordid stories included quotes by Meredith's parents:
“The only thing different about that day was that shot. I wish I would’ve known more about it before I agreed to it,” Rebecca Prohaska said.

“It has to be that vaccine,” Mark Prohaska said.
As we can see, it wasn't the only thing different that day and it wasn't the vaccine.  This is a tragic death that appears to be most likely preventable.  The Prohaskas have my deepest sympathy because as a parent, I can't imagine anything worse than losing your child. 


Thursday, August 28, 2014

sadly - another: Aliana has SSPE

While social media are a-buzz with stories of a CDC whistleblower - let's remind ourselves why everyone should vaccinate their children (and themselves).

Max, Micha and Natalie have already died. Angelina, who turned 9 years last week, is still fighting. We know their names, because the measles vaccine has significantly reduced the incidence of SSPE, the fatal complication, that shrinks a child's brain, many years after infection.
Now, another girl has been diagnosed - learn her name - celebrate her life - vaccinate your kids, so not one more child has to join the exclusive club:


Aliana was born in early 2010 - a "good measles year" in Germany, with "only" 780 cases. Aliana was one of them - she fell ill as a 6 months old infant, it is not clear who infected her. Then she recovered, at least so it appeared. Aliana grew, she was an open, friendly girl. She quickly found friends, because everyone liked to play with her. In retrospect, she maybe fell more than her peers, but then again, she was still little. But suddenly, Aliana started to forget everything, she couldn't speak as well as she used to. Then, motor problems started, she stumbled, and fell. Unfortunately, the original diagnosis of epilepsy was wrong and 4 weeks ago, Aliana was diagnosed with SSPE. Her grandmother describes the indescribable [my translation from the German]:

I am the granny of a girl who loved life, played games, was friendly to all, and so kind. When I sang songs with her, she immediately knew the lyrics by heart. I could tell you so much more about this little girl, but it breaks my heart how slowly, everything gets lost.

This has to stop! Every case of SSPE, a fate like Aliana's and her family's heartache can be avoided. Check your and your children's vaccination records. Everyone should get/have gotten 2x MMR to protect themselves and babies like Aliana from measles.