When well-reasoned discussion fails to convince someone of your strongly-held beliefs, the most effective tool of persuasion you have left is lying. This has always been the fall back position for quacks and politicians (a group with perhaps some significant overlap). This week, as reported by Respectful Insolence, anti-vaccination activists are launching a week of activism based on their usual fall back strategy. Everyone is encouraged to spread the news, and help refute the lies with the cold, harsh light of truth. On twitter, the news will be trending at the hashtag #vaxfax. There is not formal aggregation of posts yet, but we'll let you know as soon as we have a website up.
Meanwhile, bloggers and others are strongly encouraged to refute the lies coming from infamous antivaccination nuts such as Barbara Loe Fisher and Joe Mercola. As my first contribution to this week's battle, I give you an over-the-top piece of idiocy which is either mendacious or blindingly stupid. Or maybe both, who can really say.
It comes from one of the biggest gurus of medical misinformation, Joe Mercola. He titles his post, "What is in the flu vaccine that can cause infertility?" which is akin to asking, "when did you stop beating your wife?" He could just as easily have asked, "What is in the flu vaccine that can cause an alien invasion?" In this case, he bases his question (which I cannot say with completely certainty to be the product of fantasy, intentional lying, idiocy, or whatever) on a package insert for flu vaccines. His entire article goes on to state the usual thought-free lies about vaccine contents, but we'll focus on his headline. Is there evidence that flu vaccines cause fertility problems?
First, is the idea plausible? What causes infertility? Fertility can have male causes, female causes, or can be a combined cause. It can be temporary or permanent. Common causes (other than intentional interruption of fertility) include disorders of sperm production, egg production, fertilization---there are many causes and combinations of causes. If a flu vaccination were to be contaminated with a significant amount of a hormone or hormone analog, I suppose it could contribute to temporary infertility, but it's hard to conceive of how this could happen.
Here is Mercola's smoking gun:
A study done in Slovakia on female rats found that when newborn rats were injected with the substance [flu vaccine] within a week of birth, they developed damage to the vagina and uterine lining, hormonal changes, ovarian deformities and infertility.
The package insert for Fluarix mentions that the manufacturer cannot guarantee your fertility will be unharmed...
What does this compelling evidence actually tell us? First, from the package insert:
FLUARIX has not been evaluated for carcinogenic or mutagenic potential, or for impairment of fertility.
The issue of fertility and this flu vaccine has not been specifically tested in humans, mostly because the idea is insanely improbable. But what about the rats? He doesn't cite any actual Slovak study, but the package insert says this:
A reproductive and developmental toxicity study has been performed in female rats at a dose approximately 56 times the human dose (on a mg/kg basis) and revealed no evidence of impaired female fertility or harm to the fetus due to FLUARIX. There are, however, no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women.
So other than a putative Slovak study that may have shown "something", a something not borne out in any human studies after billions vaccinations over decades, what does Mercola have to offer?
The package insert for Fluarix mentions that the manufacturer cannot guarantee your fertility will be unharmed.
While I cannot find this particular phrase in the manufacturer's literature, let's pretend it's there. The manufacturer also cannot guarantee that aliens won't come probe your rectum after your flu shot. There are lots of negatives that cannot be proven. The overwhelming evidence is that flu shots are not only safe, but beneficial in preventing flu and complications from the flu.
I got mine, and so did my six year old daughter who is everything to me. If even one person is harmed by following Mercola's advice, he is morally culpable for the injury or death of that person. He should be ashamed.