WHO vs. trolls and bots

“Click here to sign a meaningless petition I created to ban this thing I don’t like.” “Give this posting a ‘like’ or Jesus won’t like you anymore.” “Read this story about how vaccines will kill your baby.” Thanks, Facebook. Yeah, it’s more complicated than that, but we can probably agree that FB should only be used to see what your high school crush looks like today, not as a source of news. WHO has reported a 30% increase in the number of measles cases from 2016 to 2017 and they say the increase falls squarely on the shoulders of vaccine hesitancy. According to the BBC, the Americas, Europe, and the Eastern Mediterranean show the largest increases in incidence. Here’s a list of common vaccine myths. Let’s see…given the fact that this writer won’t be conducting his own primary research on the topic anytime soon, should I choose to trust WHO and CDC or should I trust the Russian trolls and bots on Facebook? That’s a tough one.

New school motto: “We produce leaders… in vaccine exemption”

You may have heard of Steiner/Waldorf schools before. No, not Statler and Waldorf. Their whole thing is focused on raising kids with free will and some spiritual component I’m not going to pretend I understand well enough to explain. They also tend to attract parents who don’t vaccinate their kids, as most recently evidenced in North Carolina where 36 students are very itchy after a chickenpox outbreak. Hopefully, some scratching is all they’ll have to deal with—two to three of every 1,000 chickenpox cases require hospitalization. Of the school’s 152 students, a staggering 72% hadn’t been vaccinated against the virus. The lesson here is that it’s perfectly fine to treat your kid like the special angel they are—if it doesn’t negatively affect other kids. Also don’t conflate “anti-vax” with the N-word.

Flu protection powered by llamas

Flu season is upon us, have you gotten your shot yet? You may be apprehensive because it doesn’t always work—for instance, last year’s flu vaccine was only 40 percent effective. If flu strains weren’t so diverse it wouldn’t be such an issue, which is why “mega-antibody” vaccines capable of protecting against multiple strains would be cool. Last week, researchers published a study detailing the process they used to develop one of these vaccines, which combined the fun-sized antibodies that llamas produce to make a vaccine capable of protecting mice against 59 of 60 flu strains they tested against. However, human antibodies are bigger, so they might not fit together nicely like llamas’ do. But even a vaccine that could protect against just a few strains could drastically affect infection rates. Here’s a likely delivery mechanism.

Parents pissed at poor production

Chinese parents are understandably angry after the emergence of a third vaccine safety scandal in about as many years. Regulators announced last Friday that Changsheng Bio-tech (which ironically means “long life” in Chinese) had sold over 250k low-quality DPT vaccines to a Chinese public health agency responsible for 100M citizens. Hey, at least that’s better than the over 400k subpar DPT vaccines produced by a different Chinese manufacturer which authorities uncovered last November. Or the spoiled vaccines illegally sold in 24 provinces in 2016. Authorities are also sick of the scandals, so on Wednesday they announced an audit of China’s entire vaccine production system. Until that’s done, you might not see consumers springing for vaccines Made in China for a bit.

It’s snot great

Americans are experiencing the full wrath of the flu this year, with the CDC reporting that all ten of their administrative regions are experiencing elevated levels of influenza like illness. There’s a few reasons for that. The big one is that this year’s strain is one of the particularly nasty ones; it gets more people sick and makes those people sicker. Plus, this year we got unlucky with the vaccine: it’s only proven to be about 30% effective this year. But hey, at least we’re doing better this flu season than Australia did. Their vaccine only managed to protect 10% of users. Don’t let those rates worry you though, officials are still encouraging getting vaccinated. What else are you gonna do, wrap dirty socks around your neck?

Get your flu shot… even with new safety concerns

Sometimes you conduct a study, and the results suck, but you still have to report them. That’s what the authors of an influenza safety study found last week, when they discovered an association between miscarriage and flu vaccination. It’s bad enough that this gives more ammo to antivaxxers, but it also sucks because flu vaccines are particularly important for expecting mothers. Flu symptoms can be more severe for this population, and can lead to pre-term births and miscarriages all on their own. Plus, the vaccine is the only way for developing babies to receive long-term flu protection since infants younger than six months can’t receive it. So please, protect yourself, your kids, and the rest of us too.

Zika update: no one thinks it’s scary anymore

We’ve done a full 360 on Zika. In early 2016, the WHO declared Zika to be a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” Less than two years later we’re just injecting it into brains willy-nilly to see what it does. To be fair, it does seem to kill glioblastomas pretty effectively, so we’ll give mad scientists a pass this time. Still, the Zika crisis did seem to peter out quickly in the Americas, at least quicker than US government investors expected. Without any real epidemic threat from the virus forthcoming, funding for the government and Sanofi’s vaccine development partnership has dried up. There are still two vaccine candidates from GSK and Takeda in development, but the decision has been criticized as short-sighted.