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What's in the Autoclave? A Blog about Science

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Vaccine [Nov. 14th, 2008|01:15 pm]
What's in the Autoclave? A Blog about Science
It's been a while since I posted here; it's been a very busy summer and fall as I try to get the last experiments finished for a paper.

The current issue of Nature Immunology has an editorial about the declining use of vaccines in the West and the corresponding rise in measles and mumps outbreaks.

I've been reading a pop-science book about the history of vaccines lately, and I have grown to understand where some of the anti-vaccine arguments are coming from. There were serious missteps in the early days of vaccine development, when (frankly) doctors didn't really know what they were doing. The original smallpox vaccine in the 1800s was nearly as bad as the disease itself, for instance. But it is unfair to compare pre-1960s medicine to the medicine of today, and enough safety studies have been done on today's vaccines to establish that they work and work well, with minimal side effects -- side effects certainly less severe than those associated with actual measles and mumps infections.

Vaccines have gotten a lot of attention recently for their supposed connection to autism. What I was not aware of until reading this editorial is that the scientist who originally suggested the autism link had a major conflict of interest -- his work was funded in part by personal injury lawyers involved in a lawsuit against the MMR vaccine manufacturers. This kind of thing is the reason why researchers are increasingly being asked by journals and the institutions at which they work to file annual declarations of their conflicts of interest... but that's a separate topic entirely.