Friday, December 23, 2005

Ron Law at his anti-vaccination wingnuttery again

Ron Law, who is the resident New Zealand anti-vaccination nut, has come out with his usual brand of huffing, puffing and incredulous statements about MeNZB (The vaccine against Meningococcal group B). This time it concerns the announcement that two individuals have died of meningococcal B disease in Waikato and the release of the results of the vaccination program in Counties-Manakau. Obviously, the highlight of the article is Ron Laws hillarious blustering about the MeNZB campaign such as:
"Now that the vaccine campaign is past its peak they don't want any bad news coming out."
A child under the age of 1 was one of the victims and the second was a 60 year old woman of which, neither of the two people have been vaccinated (in fact, nobody over 20 has recieved the vaccine). So yes, this is certainly damming evidence that the vaccination campaign is all a sham isn't it Mr. Law? Maybe to someone living in a different reality it is, but in any event, going back to this reality let's look at the actual cases. Of the 32 meningococcal cases detected in the Waikato, 17 were confirmed to be of the epidemic B serotype and that none of these cases were in individuals who were fully vaccinated, though a few were partially vaccinated.

Carrying on through the article, we see anti-vaccination opponents have made noises regarding the noting of 'break-through' cases where several individuals who have been fully vaccinated have got the disease.
Meanwhile, opponents of the mass campaign are questioning its benefit after the release of figures from Counties-Manukau which showed several immunised people caught the disease. The Counties-Manukau campaign started first and by February there will have been a one-year observation period of fully vaccinated people.
Firstly, we should investigate what the actual data from the region has been since the introduction of the vaccine (PDF document containing data and figures on the region from the ministry of health, a must have to follow the remainder of the post). The two figures demonstrate a quite significant drop compared to the previous years, with the rates of meningococcal B being immensely low at comparative periods. In other words, this is establishing that the vaccine has been fully effective in its intended original purpose, in other words to lower the number of cases of the disease. Now secondly, we'll observe that there have been several known examples where fully-vaccinated individuals have gotton the disease.

This is not an unreasonable or unexpected thing to have occured for two primary reasons. As the rates of vaccination go up, the only people that can potentially be infected with the organism coincidentally end up being those who are vaccinated. No vaccine can be 100% effective and instead the reliance of how a vaccine works is by herd immunity, where a virulent organism 'burns' itself out of susceptible hosts until it no longer encounters anyone it can infect. With such a large sample size (160,000 individuals have been followed in this case) for a mere 8 break-throughs among 6 weeks to 19 year olds, from a vaccine expected to be around 80-85% effective is very good. Additionally, the figures for those ages 4 weeks to 4 years (where the vaccine would be expected to be most effective, as the immune system is most active around this time) are even better with a mere 1 case.

Quite simply, the mewling about this coming from anti-vaccination groups is simple desperation to paint anything negative about a campaign that has worked brilliantly. By all means however, look at the simple reduction in cases since the introduction of the vaccine in the two graphs compared to the previous 4 years. Since the introduction of the vaccine it's self-evident to anyone without a clear anti-vaccine agenda this campaign has worked brilliantly. Speaking of those with an anti-vaccination agenda:
Mr Law said it was clear that the vaccine was not working in Counties-Manukau.
Yes, well once again let's investigate the claims that Ron makes by again referencing the actual graphs from the region that the ministry of health have provided. Once again, if such a massive drop in the number of cases is 'not working' then you would have to wonder what Mr. Law would consider for the vaccine 'working' or not. Very clearly, Ron is making up any rubbish he wants to try and support his agenda, of which this statement is the true howler of the entire article.
"It hasn't made one iota of difference to the decline that was already occurring prior to vaccine rollout."
This is a common anti-vaccination crank claim and is repeated endlessly no matter what the agent is, be it polio, measels, smallpox or any number of diseases. Unfortunately for Ron Law, his statement can quickly and easily be seen to be bunk by using the same two graphs provided by the ministry of health. The 'decline' that Ron Law is undoutably reffering to can be seen at the beginning of every single year in the two graphs. In fact, you'll notice that every year starts out with a small number of actual cases. Even the second highest year (2003 on the graph) started with 0 cases being reported in february and then, like every previous year spiked up sometime around may.

For those of you from overseas, around April-May is when New Zealand starts to get into its winter period and starts getting cold. This is obviously when all manner of diseases, including the flu which has similar symptoms to those of early meningococcal disease start to rise. The very fact that every year sees the same rise and then decline of the disease (with corresponding spike again the next year) should make it evidentally clear that Ron Law is full of rubbish. To see what might have been however, you should note that even with the vaccine the cases have still risen towards the end of the year just much less significantly.

As an analysis of the actual data shows (and I highly recommend downloading the ministry of healths report for yourselves and looking at the two graphs especially), all Ron Law has now is empty rhetoric to save face after every argument he gibbered about earlier in the year has been proven false. At least with such a brilliant art for spinning arguments he could also apply for a job at the Discovery Institute.