ACSH in the Media on The Lancet's Retraction
ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan has an editorial commentary in today's New York Post about The Lancet's retraction of Dr. Wakefield's 1998 paper linking the MMR vaccine to autism. She warns, “Even with the retraction, the widespread rumors of a vaccine-autism link will prevail: The broader anti-vaccine movement is alive and well, albeit without a shred of evidence to support their case. As the chief of Infectious Disease at Philadelphia Children's Hospital, Dr. Paul Offit, reflected sadly, 'This retraction by Lancet came far too late. It's very easy to scare people; it's very hard to unscare them.'”
The Whelan op-ed continues, “This incident leads to one very unsettling but unavoidable conclusion: Even a study in a top-notch, peer-reviewed medical journal may still be scientific garbage. Imagine how many other false (if less controversial) reports glide by under the radar -- undetected but still destructive to good science and public health.”
ACSH staffers agree with those at scienceblogs.com who are disappointed with the media coverage of the subject.
Also, ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross is quoted in an L.A. Times blog about Dr. Wakefield's response to the retraction.
Homeopathics Unproductive, Herbals Counterproductive
According to New Scientist, “No ill effects were reported by hundreds of volunteers who took part in a mass-overdose stunt around the world to demonstrate that homeopathic remedies are nothing more than sugar pills...an estimated 300 volunteers in several cities in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S...swallowed a bottleful of around 80 homeopathic 'pillules' at exactly 10:23 am on Saturday.”
“Given the popularity of homeopathic remedies and their utter lack of scientific validity, it's nice to see people identifying them for what they are,” says ACSH's Todd Seavey. “Frankly, it's nice to see any pro-science protest in general.”
“This is not to say that you should run out and take an overdose of all the homeopathics you can find,” adds Dr. Ross. “While it's true that they have no effective medicine whatsoever in them, there also aren't strict controls on them in terms of contaminants.”
In related news, research analysis published in the Feb. 9 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology by investigators with the Mayo Clinic warns that herbal supplements such as ginkgo biloba and St. John's wort should be avoided by patients with heart disease, since they can interfere with drugs prescribed to lower blood pressure, control cholesterol, stabilize heart rhythms, or prevent blood clots.
“Other warnings include an advisory to anyone taking certain drugs to avoid grapefruit juice, which can prolong the effect or even lead to toxic levels,” says Dr. Ross. “Examples of drugs not to be mixed with grapefruit juice include calcium-channel blockers, statins, antidepressants, and anti-seizure medications. Good advice for anyone taking supplements or on these medications: discuss possible interactions with your doctor.”
Asking the Expert
ACSH staffers had the opportunity to correspond with Dr. William Schaffner, Professor and Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and one of the nation's most respected vaccine experts, in order to better understand the current state of both the H1N1 and seasonal flu. Here are some of the most salient questions:
ACSH: “It appears to us that there is now a significant excess of H1N1 vaccine in the U.S. relative to current demand. Will the H1N1 vaccine need to be discarded by a certain date, just as we discard a previous year's supply of seasonal flu vaccine and make a new vaccine for the next year?”
Dr. Schaffner: “Yes, the H1N1 has a 'use by' date. The H1N1 virus is very likely to be included in the 2010-2011 influenza vaccine, so there will be no real need for H1N1 vaccine after the spring. There were some news articles just today indicating that several developed countries with excess vaccine supply now are working with WHO to provide H1N1 vaccine to the developing world.”
ACSH: “Did the government buy all the vaccine supply in advance so that the manufacturers took no risk?”
Dr. Schaffner: “Yes, our federal government had contracts with all the US-licensed influenza manufacturers to buy H1N1 vaccines. There was no financial risk to manufacturers.”
ACSH: “Does anyone know why the seasonal flu has not yet appeared?”
Dr. Schaffner: “We all know that influenza is unpredictable. I certainly anticipated that there would be some increase in seasonal influenza in February or March. I think most of my colleagues had a similar anticipation. We'll see...”
Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org).