The recent AstraZeneca offers a cautionary tale.
- AstraZeneca's press release about its recent vaccine trials was filled with erroneous data.
- A manufacturing error meant that some participants only received half of the intended dosage.
- In the rush to produce a vaccine, science by press release is of growing concern.
AstraZeneca Vaccine Trial Likely Needs a Restart: Johns Hopkins<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2913149af137b447f306b83ee2808ced"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YsfvESm84PQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Science has always been and will continue to be complicated. In regards to the pandemic, more surprises await, like the fact that <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/17/chemicals-found-in-everyday-products-could-hinder-covid-19-vaccine" target="_blank">PFAS could negatively impact</a> the efficacy of <em>any</em> COVID-19 vaccine. This is of particular importance to Americans, as this acid is used in many common products in this country. <br></p><p>There's little comfort that an adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health says we "have to cross our fingers and hope for the best" in regards to the possibility that the chemicals in non-stick pans and waterproof clothing might thwart our chance of successful vaccination. Discovering this possibility isn't a conspiracy; it's indicative of science working as intended, even if we don't like the results. </p><p>Chemistry matters; so does patience. Weill Cornell Medicine vaccine researcher John Moore <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/11/after-dosing-mix-latest-covid-19-vaccine-success-comes-big-question-mark" target="_blank">phrased it best</a> when calling AstraZeneca's head-scratching announcement "the worst aspect of science by press release." In the rush to deliver good news during a challenging year, we overlook the fact that science is a slow process governed by consensus. Rushing out half-baked data does no one any good. </p><p>AstraZeneca's rush to break news is especially perilous given the <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2020/09/17/u-s-public-now-divided-over-whether-to-get-covid-19-vaccine/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing influence</a> of vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaxxers. Misinformation is like a dry forest floor after a hot summer. Vaccine science needs to be evidence-based. Fear-mongering thrives when the focus is a headline instead of clinical efficacy.</p>
Credit: Raquel / Adobe Stock<p>As Jonathan Berman writes in his recent book, "Anti-vaxxers: How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement,"<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Vaccination occupies a unique space as one of the most effective technologies ever developed to fight disease, as well as the only technology to ever eliminate a disease entirely. Vaccination conveys both individual and collective benefits, and carries very modest individual and collective risks." </p><p>Perhaps because this is the first global pandemic in generations we've forgotten how deadly diseases can be. In the 18th century, more humans died from communicable diseases than today's biggest killers, like heart disease and cancer; roughly 300 million people died from smallpox in the 20th century. COVID-19 isn't nearly as deadly, yet that doesn't dampen the real problems we face around vaccine disinformation. </p><p>In some ways, even the botched press release isn't new. Conceptually, vaccines are thousands of years old. Louis Pasteur, building on Edward Jenner's work on cowpox, was as much publicist as scientist when his <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/anthrax/resources/history/index.html" target="_blank">anthrax trial</a> helped usher in the modern age of medicine. He made sure to invite plenty of journalists to observe his trial, which is how word of this medical advancement spread widely. </p><p>Expediency often sacrifices integrity. Fortunately, Pasteur's scientific literacy was as dependable as his love of fawning writers. As Victorian-era statistician Francis Galton presciently commented, "In science credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not the man to whom the idea first occurs." </p><p>We have to wield the power responsibly. Vaccine development by press release does not serve anyone. There are too many variables in medicine and humans are impatient animals. Good science relies on the input of many researchers and tens of thousands of volunteers. </p><p>That great strides have been made in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine should comfort us—a little—but also serve as a reminder that little arrives as quickly as we desire. That's just not how science works. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
Andrew Wakefield turned away from science and to the tabloids to spread his fabricated data.
- Investigative journalist Brian Deer has published a new book on anti-vaxx ringleader, Andrew Wakefield.
- Discredited in the science community, Wakefield turned to the media to share his anti-vaxx propaganda.
- The disbarred doctor fabricated results and filed for his own vaccine patents, Deer reports.
Brian Deer on the media's role in vaccine scares<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8fb353300760fa3da4cff23f5875bc51"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/P8uBzQC3Xz8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Gershon realized the slides were likely contaminated in the laboratory. He wasn't the only one. Science has long suffered from the "<a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/12/13/the-truth-wears-off" target="_blank">replication crisis</a>"—many studies come to a conclusion that cannot be replicated upon further research. Not only did future research fail to confirm Wakefield's research, the doctor balked when his research institution, Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, offered a large sum of money to conduct a follow-up study. If Wakefield's work was sturdy, it would have held up.</p><p>Wakefield never even tried. Instead, he turned to an increasingly popular trick when your data fails: let the media do your work for you. Science is hard and expensive. Clickbait, cheap and addictive. </p><p>The actual data is mind-boggling. The 12 children in the original study were handpicked, which is antithetical to clinical research. Wakefield falsified the results from pediatricians. He used microscopic-level stains; a more reliable molecular method found nothing. The parents of study subjects, some with their own agendas (such as litigation), kept changing the timeline of their child's conditions—some children showed symptoms of autism <em>before</em> the MMR vaccine was given while others claimed symptoms started hours after injection when previous reports state that it was months. While Wakefield was raging against the vaccine, he filed for two patents on single measles shots. </p><p>After purchasing a six-bedroom house on five acres of prime Austin real estate—Wakefield moved to America to take advantage of growing anti-vaxx fervor—he realized the equation for success: "<em>Autism + vaccines = money</em>."</p><p>Every chapter drops your jaw. Consider this example to better understand the myth of vaccine-created autism. On July 20, 2005, Wakefield, with support from anti-vaxx congressman Dan Burton, spoke at the National Mall. The event was a rally against the vaccine ingredient, thimerosal, which itself is a red herring: thimerosal was removed from almost all vaccines in 1999, yet autism cases continued to rise. </p>
Dr Andrew Wakefield (C) walks with his wife Carmel after speaking to reporters at the General Medical Council (GMC) on January 28, 2010 in London, England.
Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images<p>Wakefield read a statement from a UK newspaper apologizing after the former doctor brought a defamation suit. By this point, Deer had published numerous groundbreaking stories in the Sunday Times (circulation: 1.2 million). A tiny local newspaper, the Cambridge Evening News (circulation: 5,000), had reprinted two sentences from Deer's coverage. Instead of bringing Deer to court (which he would do later, unsuccessfully), Wakefield sued the fragile paper in eastern England, which did not have the resources to defend itself.</p><p>No one on the Mall that day understood the specifics. They weren't told the backstory. All they heard was that Wakefield was vindicated, for which they cheered. </p><p>Every schtick has a shelf life. Deer details the increasingly absurd stakes of Wakefield's career: measles causes Crohn's disease; the MMR vaccine causes autism; all vaccines are suspect. Over the course of two decades, the disbarred doctor chased money wherever it led, taking a willing media along with him. His efforts culminated in the 2016 pseudoscience documentary, "Vaxxed."</p><p>Actions have consequences. Andrew Wakefield saw opportunity in vaccine-resistant parents. At first, he filed for his own single-jab measles vaccine—at the time, the demon was supposedly the triple shot MMR—but he wasn't fully aware of what lurked inside of this Pandora's box. Wakefield was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to fabricate the study, as Deer's reporting shows. A long game hadn't yet been imagined. </p><p>Twenty-two years later, during the worst pandemic in a century, 35 percent of Americans claim they will not take an FDA-approved, free COVID-19 vaccine, according to a <a href="https://news.gallup.com/poll/317018/one-three-americans-not-covid-vaccine.aspx" target="_blank">Gallup poll</a>. The science community called Wakefield's research out for what it was, yet by manipulating the media—more forcefully, social media—the "doctor with no patients" has made a large percentage of people skeptical of one of the best therapeutic interventions ever devised. The cost, if and when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, will be high. </p><p>Never say one man cannot change the world. And never think that change is always for the better.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>