Vaccinations WORK and are extremely safe. All informed “debate” is over, Vaccinate your children!

Whilst researching the status of polio in India I ran across a US website ranting about the (almost entirely imaginary) “dangers” associated with vaccines.

Sad to see so many in the USA still so persistent with their opposition to the obvious, while in India vaccine programs have run into some problems when poorly informed local leaders and traditional medicine practioners scare people away from the greatest medical innovations in all of human history – Vaccines.

[note – I’m not informed enough to talk about about the new  and politically controversial cervical cancer vaccine many believe should be mandatory for girls – here I’m talking about the old vaccines like DPT and Polio, tried and true, that have been used for decades]

Vaccinations have saved *hundreds of millions* of lives outright and spared *hundreds of millions* more from dramatic reductions in the quality of life.  Like any broadly applied remedy, Vaccine complications have caused a few deaths and a very tiny number of complications.   Only a narrow and irrational approach focuses ONLY on risks and ignores the massive benefits.

Vaccination math is overwhelmingly supportive of vaccines, yet ignored by the folks in the very vocal and active  anti-vaccine crowd, who simply refuse to do the math, choosing instead to point to imaginary or “one in a million” risks as if they these outweigh the 999,999 in a million benefits.

I wrote a comment over at the site I bumped into just now:

Sorry to see sites like this that discourage people from the “no brainer” that is vaccination of children.  Usually the misunderstandings come from the fact that you will have a very, very, very tiny number of complications with anything that touches billions of lives. This is NOT a reason to fear vaccines irrationally, as far too many do both in USA and developing world.  Leaving your children unvaccinated places them at hundreds of times the risk of a vaccinated person. You also put others at greater risks.  Ironically this would NOT be an issue if vaccines had not been such an incredible success because people would see the affects of polio, smallpox, and other diseases all around them. We don’t see that because we use vaccines.


One MINOR caveat here to the above.   There is a point in time when vaccination success may lead to a total regional eradication of a disease.  At that time the (tiny, tiny) risks of vaccinating can wind up being greater than the (nearly zero) risk of contracting the eradicated disease.   This happened with smallpox in the USA and it’s why we no longer vaccinate for smallpox.    This fact hardly undermines the importance of vaccines or supports the “anti vaccine” crowd’s imaginary complications  (e.g. autism), but it’s important to keep it in mind when doing vaccine math.

Corn fed cows, corn syrup, and the end of civilization

Ater a discussion with my sister about health concerns over corn syrup in food and grass vs. corn fed beef I followed up a bit on the Corn Syrup and Corn Fed Cow Continuum ….:

I’d consider this source (the Mayo Clinic dietician) to be “very authoritative” and when I find these sources I don’t need to look much farther because they keep up on the research and have little reason to distort things.    There are exceptions to this and you need to be careful not to trust authorities when they are advising on things they are NOT authoritative about..but…

To me it suggests something I routinely find to be the case on these issues:   They are of minor rather than major concern, but many bright people choose (for reasons I do not understand) to *focus* on a narrow aspect of the overall health (or other scientifically defined) issues.

There’s a lot online about Grass fed beef that suggests it is healthier than corn fed.   Unfortunately the papers tended to look at grass fed meat composition rather than the long terms effects of that composition on human health, so for me this probably falls into the category of a small enough difference that I’d prioritize this far, far below what I’d argue are the big three: exercise, total caloric intake, and fat to calorie ratio.    I also understand that a daily multi-vitamin is good idea and would suggest that is likely enough to make a difference that we should take one.

The gist of my argument is simple and I’d suggest pretty obvious to an open mind:   If you care about your health you should spend most of your health-related thinking working to balance exercise, total caloric intake, and fat to calorie ratio such that your BMI stays below 25, a well established health milestone.   Secondarily, you should generally take a multi-vitamin.

Lastly, at the risk of sounding kooky because this type of thing normally falls into the kooky thinking realm, I think you can make a case that most of us should probably be taking resveratrol, an antioxidant that was shown to provide simply extraordinary life extension benefits in mice.   Although I normally think this kind of thing is goofy the early results for this substance are so compelling it’s foolish to ignore it (for the same reason it is foolish to *pay attention to* the largely bogus claims of most vitamin and nutrition therapies).

There may be some other compelling science I’m not familiar with but my point is that fretting over trivial things like trace chemicals in food, organic food issues, and even non-trivial but small issues like corn beef being fattier and corn syrup are *probably*, though not certainly, a waste of health thinking time because these factors are *swamped out* by the big three listed above:
(exercise, total caloric intake, fat to calorie ratio), and vitamin supplements.

Also note that I’m excluding cases where somebody has a deficiency or a disease that should affect their diet.   For example lactose intolerant folks should obviously not eat cheese or drink milk unless they take enzymes to help digest it.   Normally those are healthy foods but they are …. ugly foods for some people.

Also I’d note another obvious item – biology plays a big role in health that remains very poorly understood.   A poster gal for horrible diet and no exercise will often thrive for many years and will often outlive a LOT of joggers with great BMI and diets.  A poster perfect diet and exercise routine will affect your biology but I’d guess won’t trump it.    Hmmm – this would be interesting to review as identical twin study.   If I’m right, you’ll find identical twins will tend to die close to the same age regardless of their lifestyle.  It seems you could use twin studies to tease out the biology vs lifestyle factors.

Organic Frustrations?

CNN is reporting today on a new study that shows Americans are getting increasingly reluctant about  Organic products:

Folks, that is a good thing because for the most part the whole concept of organic food superiority is at best wrong and at worst…fraudulent and marketing hype driven. 

In terms of pesticides and other chemical concerns, few regular vegetables have more measurable problems than organic vegetables.    However for other concerns, such as insect contamination – you can make the case that organics are riskier since those production methods have eliminated from the production chain chemicals and treatments that prevent bugs, rot, or other forms of biological contaminations.    But I’m not trying to make a case here that organics are “more dangerous” than non-organics.  Rather they are indistinguishable in terms of the health impact on a human, and therefore generally a waste of time, money, and resources.     We surround ourselves with huge risk every day in the form of traffic, smoking (for those who do), and a plethora of contaminants we largely ignore despite the fact they represent measureably far more risk than vegetable items which are far overregulated at almost every part of the production cycle.

It might make your mind *feel* better about your health to eat organic, but unlike hundreds of other behaviors you don’t worry about (bikes in traffic, no seatbelts, smoking, etc, etc, etc) eating organic is not having any measureable impact on your health.

I’m very open to criticism on this and trying to keep an open mind, so if anybody knows of any research on health and organic stuff I’d be very interested in reading it.

Charity return on investment is important. Thanks World Vision!

There are a great number of groups doing a lot of good in the world, and I’m concerned that *something* in the way we process information about poverty and health needs in the developing world has made us far too skeptical of how easy it can be to save lives, and far too skeptical of the groups that are doing a good job.

This in part leads to what I’d argue is an immoral state of affairs in the charity world. Most people in the USA give far more to University, Hospital, and Museum endowments than they give to organizations serving the third world that are saving lives for a few bucks rather than simply making our already very comfortable middle class lives a *bit* better. I guess that’s OK but I’ll take the big ROI on my charity investments, thank you.

It feels very good knowing your money is actually saving lives, living because I chose to give to high ROI charities.

The simple story is that it costs very little to save lives in the developing world. Although it’s a little counterintuitive it’s also clear that reduced death rates lead to reduced birth rates and lower population. I’m floored by how poorly this is understood by otherwise intelligent people, and it seems to be the top reason people say they don’t want to give money to extremely poor people. Graft and corruption are major problems in the third world which is why you want to give to “NGOs” or “non-governmental organizations” which tend to be far more effective at making sure the money finds its way to the right people.

So, let’s apply this ROI in real life and give some money in honor of my Mother’s birthday today. I think charities like World Vision do a lot of good but also suffer from the kind of fatigue people show when presented with a lot of “dying children” information. This is unfortunate because World Vision leverages cheap and free expertise to deliver a lot per donated dollar. Here is the campaign mom likes:

Major pharmaceutical companies have recently donated over $174 million in medicines and supplies to World Vision.
But we need your help to distribute them where they’re needed most.

The medicine is Mebendazole and some others that fight worms and intestinal viruses – one of the leading killers in the developing world. World Vision has the meds but needs money to ship them. The “multiplier” in this case is 13x – ie a donation of a mere 7.7 cents delivers – literally – a dollar of medicines.

So, time to stop writing and do some good and give $770 dollars to this campaign for a health impact of just over $10,000!

Donor Name: Joseph Hunkins
Donation Total: $770.00
Donation Date: 27-Sep-2007
Completed Date: 27-Sep-2007
Payment Type: 
Credit Card Type:

Happy Birthday Mom!

World Vision