TWiV 387: Quaxxed

TWiVOn episode #387 of the science show This Week in Virology, Nina Martin joins the TWiV team to talk about the movie Vaxxed, her bout with dengue fever, and the latest research on Zika virus.

You can find TWiV #387 at, or listen below.

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TWiV 117: The Panic Virus with Seth Mnookin

panic virusHosts: Vincent RacanielloRich Condit, and Seth Mnookin

On episode #117 of the podcast This Week in Virology, Vincent and Rich converse with Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus, about vaccines, autism, thimerosal, and a contagion of human unreason run wild.

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Weekly Science Picks

Rich and Vincent – The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin

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TWiV 69: They’re all safecrackers

Hosts: Vincent Racaniello, Alan Dove, and Rich Condit

Vincent, Alan, and Rich review recent outbreaks of mumps in the UK, US, and Israel, protection of mice against 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus by 1918-like and classical swine H1N1 vaccines, and a virus-like particle vaccine for chikungunya virus.

This episode is sponsored by Data Robotics Inc. Use the promotion code VINCENT to receive $50 off a Drobo or $100 off a Drobo S.

Win a free Drobo S! Contest rules here.

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Subscribe to TWiV (free) in iTunes , at the Zune Marketplace, by the RSS feed, or by email.

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Weekly Science Picks

Rich John Moran Florida Nature Photography
Alan Periodic Table of Videos
Vincent The Protein Databank Educational Resources

Send your virology questions and comments (email or mp3 file) to or leave voicemail at Skype: twivpodcast. You can also post articles that you would like us to discuss at and tag them with twiv.

A Defense of Vaccines

quackI’m a big fan of  Mark Crislip’s work – two podcasts (Persiflagers Infectious Disease Puscast, Quack Cast) and two blogs (Rubor, Dolor Calor Tumor, Science Based Medicine Blog). They have all been Picks of the Week at TWiV.  But beware, his work is not for everyone. In his own words:

Ridicule, bewailing, and scorn are my favorite techniques. I am an arrogant, closed minded, Western trained, tool of the medical industrial complex.  And proud of it.

Nevertheless, Marc has done a particularly brilliant job with one of his recent podcasts entitled “Lets Kill The Children or A Defense of Vaccines”. If you have any doubt that we should be immunizing our children, please listen to it. And even if you fully support vaccines, as I do, you should listen to it anyway because his arguments are very compelling and well researched.

Quackcast 30. Let’s Kill The Children or A Defense of Vaccines.

Offit on vaccines and autism

autism-false-prophetsIf you are not convinced that vaccines are safe, please listen to a conversation between Dr. Ginger Campbell of the Brain Science Podcast and Dr. Paul Offit.

Dr. Offit is a pediatrician who is also Chief of Infectious Diseases and Director of Vaccine Education at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is co-developer of the rotavirus vaccine and author of the book Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. This book should be read to obtain a complete appreciation of the vaccine-autism controversy. However, I found the podcast also highly compelling, because Dr. Offit is extremely knowledgeable and an excellent speaker.

The furor surrounding childhood vaccines began when Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist, published a Lancet article in 1998 claiming to show a link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) and development of autism in children. Although the study was flawed, it established a clear question: does MMR cause autism? This question has been addressed in 12 different epidemiological studies involving millions of children who either did or did not receive the vaccine. The answer is quite clear: that vaccine never caused autism. Here are Dr. Offit’s thoughts on this:

…science is enormously self-correcting. Andrew Wakefield stands up in 1998 and says, ‘I believe MMR causes autism.’ Well, he raises a hypothesis. It’s a testable hypothesis. It’s been tested. He was wrong. And that’s what I love about science. It’s just enormously self-correcting, and I just think people don’t see it that way1

The original Wakefield paper has been retracted by 10 of the 13 authors. However, the damage has been done: immunization rates with MMR have dropped in the UK, Europe, and the US. The incidence of measles is increasing and there have been deaths of children from the disease. Deaths that could have been prevented had parents chosen to have their children immunized with MMR. The controversy over MMR has lead the public to distrust all viral and bacterial vaccines, and consequently the incidence of other preventable diseases is rising.

The notion that MMR causes autism was accompanied by safety concerns about thimerosal – a mercury-containing preservative used in some vaccines to prevent microbial contamination. The results of several large epidemiological studies found no connection between autism and thimerosal. Nevertheless, the preservative was removed from most childhood vaccines – probably an error, according to Dr. Offit, which simply made parents more suspicious. Autism rates have not dropped since the use of thimerosal was discontinued.

Many parents still do not believe the conclusion that vaccines do not cause autism. Part of the problem is that the etiology of autism is not understood. To a parent, the temporal association of immunization with onset of autism is difficult to ignore. Dr. Offit recalls a story which addresses this issue:

…it’s hard to make a statistical argument, or an epidemiological argument, to a parent who’s seen something that’s very emotional. There’s a story that I tell, because I think it’s a powerful one. My wife is a privately practicing pediatrician in the suburbs. And she was in the office one day and there was a four-month-old sitting on her mother’s lap. And my wife was drawing a vaccine into a syringe that she was about to give this child. Well, while she was drawing the vaccine into a syringe the child had a seizure, and actually went on to have a permanent seizure disorder—epilepsy. And there had been a family history of epilepsy, so she was certainly at risk for that. If my wife had given that vaccine five minutes earlier, I think there’s no amount of statistical data in the world that would have convinced that mother that anything other than the vaccine caused the seizure, because I think those sort of emotional events are very hard to argue against.

Some have accused Dr. Offit of pandering to the pharmaceutical establishment and enriching himself by publishing Autism’s False Prophets. I don’t think these arguments contain a shred of truth. Dr. Offit is donating all the royalties from the boook to autism research. More compelling are his words from the interview:

I worked on that (rotavirus) vaccine because I thought that it could do a tremendous amount of good for children. It’s the same reason that I stand up for the science of vaccines and the science of vaccine safety. I care about children. That’s my motivation.

1Quotations by Dr. Offit are taken from a transcript of his conversation with Dr. Ginger Campbell.