Seattle Biomed pioneering ‘rational’ approach to vaccines | 

Early anti-vaccine hysteria. Cartoon of Edward Jenner administering cowpox vaccine to frightened young women, and cows emerging from different parts of people's bodies.
Early anti-vaccine hysteria. Cartoon of Edward Jenner administering cowpox vaccine to frightened young women, and cows emerging from different parts of people’s bodies.
Wikipedia, James Gilray

Vaccines are widely, legitimately, hailed as one of medicine’s most powerful weapons in the fight against infectious disease. Millions of lives are saved, deaths prevented, every year using this simple tool that can cost as little as a handful of pennies.

Holy bang for the buck, batman!

So it’s unfortunate we know so little about how vaccines actually work. Not knowing has spawned a persistent anti-vaccine movement by those who fear, based on little hard evidence, the potential for harm caused by tweaking our immune system.

But not knowing is also causing some problems for the biomedical community.

“I don’t see how we’re going to ever develop effective vaccines against AIDS, TB or malaria without first gaining a lot more insight into how the immune system works – and how vaccines promote immunity,” said Alan Aderem, president of Seattle Biomed, a research organization that has been working on matters of global health since Bill Gates was a teenager. Continue reading

Science, vaccines and women’s health suffer deadly setbacks in India | 

Flickr, pugetive

If you think the debate over vaccines in the United States can sometimes be a little wacky, take a look at India.

And if you think irresponsible politicking and journalism can’t kill, think again.

Seattle-based PATH, which in 2009 attempted to test the logistics of expanding the use of HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine in girls to prevent cervical cancer, has been castigated by critics for ‘unethical human experimentation’ – even though the vaccine is hardly experimental – and is now the target of two lawsuits in India.

One politician, capitalizing on the controversy, even called for PATH to be entirely expelled from India.

Meanwhile, the international biomedical research community, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and the pharmaceutical industry have suspended more than a hundred clinical trials throughout India because of the government’s new rules that require those running the trials to compensate any study volunteers who later suffer injury or death – whether the injury or death is directly caused by the study or not.

Vivien Tsu
Vivien Tsu

“This has become very harmful,” said Vivien Tsu, a women’s health expert at PATH who led the HPV study in India. “The HPV controversy and the arguments over clinical trials in India have ended up fueling each other in a way that undermines public health, not to mention India’s role in biomedical research.”

Humanosphere has followed the dispute over the PATH HPV study for a few years now. Many perhaps expected the controversy would subside over time as the evidence accumulated to show it was both beneficial and well-intended. Just the opposite has happened. Continue reading

100 Million Reasons to Love Vaccines | 

A child receives a vaccine in Bihar, India.
A child receives a vaccine in Bihar, India.
Gates Foundation

Vaccines are pretty rad. They help protect us against some pretty nasty diseases and save lives.

Not convinced? How about this: vaccines have prevented more than 100 million serious cases of contagious diseases in the US since 1924.

Scientists from the University of Pittsburgh looked at the number of reported cases of polio, measles, rubella, mumps, hepatitis A, diphtheria and whooping cough before and after vaccines were available. The projections are based on how many cases would have occurred if a vaccine was not developed for each.

We already knew that vaccines were behind the eradication of smallpox and will be a key reason why polio is up next. Then there are measles and rubella, which are pretty much not a problem in the Americas anymore.

The research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine late last week. It showed just how important vaccines have been in a historical context and why they still matter today.

All the infections avoided over nearly a century could be for naught if Americans spend more time getting health advice from former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy as opposed to scientific researchers. Continue reading

Funny, tragic video promoting vaccines like we do Viagra | 

Thanks to Jeremy Hillman at the Gates Foundation for pointing out this hilarious video from the blog that promotes the health benefits of vaccines in a manner the drug industry might typically market a drug like Viagra:

(Note:The tragic part is the fact that so many otherwise intelligent people reject vaccines and so maybe we do need this kind of marketing)

Vaccinophobia: World’s most powerful disease preventing tool, the vaccine, still a hard sell | 

A shot at life


A shot at life

The benefit of expanding the use of vaccines worldwide seems like a no-brainer: A cheap and easy way to stop disease dead in its tracks.

Yet polio persists despite a massive global campaign. The crippling disease is back in the Horn of Africa and new violence against vaccinators in Pakistan prompted the World Health Organization to again suspend its polio immunization work there.

The ups and downs of the polio campaign is a cause for concern to those seeking to eradicate this disease. But it isn’t just polio vaccines, or vaccinators, in poor countries that are targeted. There’s a disturbing synchronicity among vaccine opponents – whether it’s the Pakistani Taliban, Nigerian Islamists or Seattle granola heads. Seattle, in addition to being an epicenter for global health, is also known for having the lowest rate of child vaccination for any US city.

Part of the problem may be that a vaccine’s benefit is invisible on the individual level – lack of death and disease. Perhaps another reason vaccines are so frequently targeted for boycotts is the contagion of scientific illiteracy. Continue reading

Gates-backed vaccine alliance targets cervical cancer in poor countries – for a price | 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s biggest, and arguably most successful, project in global health has announced a new deal with vaccine manufacturers aimed at combatting one of the biggest killers of women in the developing world, cervical cancer.

Seth Berkley
Seth Berkley

“This is a disease that is killing women in the prime of their life,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), an initiative launched by the Gates Foundation in 2000 which has in the last dozen or so years prevented millions of deaths in children by expanding access to new vaccines in poor countries.

Most cervical cancer is caused by a virus, human papillomoa virus or HPV, and the drug industry has developed a number of HPV vaccines. But these new vaccines are expensive (more than $100 per dose) and have been out-of-reach for most poor countries. Women in rich countries have access to cervical cancer screening (Pap tests) and curative treatment, but women in poor countries generally do not.

“As a result, we see an estimated 275,000 women dying from cervical cancer in these countries every year,” Berkley said. Girls and women in poor countries are hit by a ‘triple whammy,’ he said, of higher disease incidence, lack of diagnosis and lack of treatment. Without access to a preventive vaccine, Berkley said, that death toll will only increase.

GAVI will begin support for HPV vaccines in Kenya as early as this month followed by Ghana, Lao PDR, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Sierra Leone and the United Republic of Tanzania. – See more at:

Today, at the World Economic Forum on Africa meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, GAVI announced that two drug companies, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, have agreed to provide their HPV vaccines to poor countries for $4.50 and $4.60, respectively, per dose. Continue reading

Bill Gates’ humanitarian plan for world (vaccination) domination | 

Bill Gates vaccine

Bill Gates loves vaccines.

He says so all the time. The media, as well as the social media hipsterverse, regularly report on this love affair, usually cheering along with Gates in favor of the cause of polio eradication — a cause which was advanced recently at a meeting he and other glitterati convened in Abu Dhabi, the world’s richest city.

Gates says the very foundation of his foundation comes from his realization in the 1990s that kids were dying for lack of access to a vaccine we in the rich world take for granted. As a result, boosting vaccination worldwide became the prime mover, the raison d’être, for what would soon be the world’s biggest philanthropy.

Yet few appreciate today just how revolutionary, and unlikely, was the start of this love affair.

Promoting this powerful, fundamental tool for children’s health may look now like an obvious humanitarian thing for a philanthropist to do. But it wasn’t either obvious or that celebrated when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation started down this path (pun intended) in the 1990s.

The Gates Foundation’s push for a revolution in immunization was greeted, from the outset, by a weird combination of controversy and apathy. Continue reading

Skepticism of vaccine programs overseas made worse by Zero Dark Thirty film | 

Is it foreign aid or covert aid?
Is it foreign aid or covert aid?
Flickr, johanoomen

Journalist Rob Crilly rightfully criticizes the film Zero Dark Thirty for getting its facts wrong about the CIA vaccination campaign that sought to confirm the DNA of bin Laden’s children.

The truth is dangerous enough. But Zero Dark Thirty risks making a difficult situation worse with a clumsy mistake. The real-life Dr Afridi used the cover of a hepatitis vaccination programme, but in the movie his team wear jackets suggesting they are providing polio drops.

For a movie that has claimed to be as factually accurate as possible in the face of criticisms, this is an error that should not have been made. However, Crilly’s larger point is to say that the film gives further ammo to polio vaccine conspiracy theorists. Continue reading