Sunday, June 19, 2005

The tactics of the anti-meningococcal B vaccine movement

Orac, who I linked to earlier has posted an excellent follow up to his vaccine-autism article over at his blog that again, I would highly recommend reading for anyone interested in this issue. One of the points that reminded me about typical tactics employed in this 'debate' is the misrepresenting of various facts and data. For example, Orac points out that;
"although I will concede that RFK Jr.'s article was so sloppy that he didn't mention if these patients had bacterial or viral meningitis, which would have made a difference"
which is similar to an argument employed over here. As mentioned in my previous post, the vaccine is against type B meningococcal disease (the one that is epidemic here). But meningitis is actually a more complicated and can be caused by several other strains of N. meningitidis such as type A and type C. Now aside from the fact this sounds like an alphabet, this represents different strains of this organism, in other words there are [i]multiple[/i] kinds of this bacterium that cause this disease. The A, B and C refer to different surface antigens, of which different countries have had various outbreaks and vaccines made against them. As mentioned previously, the B type is particularly nasty, because its surface antigens are like ours and so it wasn't as simple to make a vaccine against. Finally, it can also be possible for certain viruses to cause meningitis as well.

So it's no real surprise when I saw a TV special from 60 minutes present a woman whose child had died of 'meningitis' with the implication the vaccine had failed. Obviously this was used by anti-vaccinists to proclaim the 'ineffectiveness' of the MenB vaccine. Of course, this misses a few points about the actual epidemiology of meningitis as a disease in New Zealand. For one, while we are mostly at risk from group B, there are also infections with group C that occur from time to time as well. In this particular instance, it was made clear in a TV program just the next night that this womans child had died from a group C organism*, and not the group B meningitis the vaccine is designed to protect against. Such shoddy reporting only serves to turn people off and convince them that the anti-vaccine lobby actually has some form of credibility.

It's also worth noting that the information that comes with the vaccine for parents explicitly states that it doesn't protect against other forms of meningitis, namely group A or C. Unfortunately, when asked if she had read the information in question the response was that it wasn't regarded as important. Clearly there is some degree of parental responsibility and possibly that of the ministry of health to make 100% sure that people understand the facts about vaccinations. Clear information regarding what vaccines do and don't do is important in fighting the anti-vaccine movement.

*Incidently, it is pretty clear that from between the two shows, 60minutes and her appearance the next night someone had informed her that the meningitis in question was entirely different than the one vaccinated against. Sadly, the damage had probably already been done by that point.