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let's clarify something here

You see some interesting things in the 'letters' pages of our local newspapers. A little while ago it was the suggestion that 'stabilised liquid oxygen' was the cure for all ills. This week: a statement that the recently-introduced Gardasil vaccine contains rat poison & aluminium, and that it's caused 29 deaths and 10,000+ adverse reactions. Just how accurate is this?

With a little searching, you'll find that there are all sorts of scarey-sounding claims made about just about any vaccine there is. (And Orac's done an excellent job of deconstructing many of them - here, for example.) Gardasil does contain aluminium salts, and sodium borate (the letter-writer's rat poison). Plus a whole lot of other stuff for which Bad Things are claimed: polysorbate-80 (a surfactant that's used to ensure that vaccine components are evenly distributed in solution), histidine (an important amino acid - hard to see how that's going to cause problems!), & so on. However, dosage is the important thing here.

Polysorbate-80, for example, is present at 50μg per dose of Gardasil; histidine, 0.78 mg. Polysorbate-80 has indeed been found to cause health problems in neo-natal rats - at a dose 800,000 times greater than a young woman receiving the vaccine would receive. The recommended daily intake of histidine (used in vaccines as a buffer) is 10mg/kg of body weight - for someone weighing 50kg, this is 500mg: 500 times more than that found in a dose of Gardasil.

As for the aluminium & sodium borate: per dose there's 225 μg of aluminum & 35 μg of sodium borate. This very low dose of aluminium is there as an adjuvant - it enhances the body's immune response to the vaccine. The LD50 for borate - the dose that will kill 50% of animals eating it - is 10g/kg in adult rats. Extrapolating from that, a 50kg human would need to ingest 500g of sodium borate... The dose is important!

The 10,000+ adverse reactions to Gardasil? Well, they are recorded on the VAERS website. However, as someone commented on an earlier post here, anyone can post anything on VAERS. One doctor famously submitted a report that he had been turned into the Incredible Hulk by a flu vaccine: amazingly, this claim - made to demonstrate the shortcomings of the system - wasn't checked prior to posting on the site. One of the other problems with this mode of reporting is that we are prone to see patterns even where they don't exist. If a child becomes ill a day or so after receiving a vaccine, it's easy to associate the two. Yet without knowing how many other children are sick on any given day & from what cause, it's next to impossible to determine a causal relationship. And VAERS doesn't. Certainly many 'adverse reactions' occurred just as frequently in those receiving control or placebo doses in clinical trials of Gardasil.

And the same was true for deaths of subjects during the trials. The vaccine manufacturers reported 24 deaths (from a total study population of 25,000. However, the most common cause of death was motor accidents (4 who received the vaccine & 3 controls). Two deaths in each group were due to suicide. Other causes of death in the vaccine group included single cases of tuberculosis & cancers - while these deaths may have followed close upon the administration of the vaccine, it would be hard to demonstrate a direct link between them. It would be equally difficult to say with any confidence that deaths among young people receiving Gardasil once it became widely available were due to the vaccine itself, although in some rare cases that may have been the case. Correlation does not equal causation.

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11 Comments

I've been agonising over replying to that letter. As you've shown refuting 5 words of misapprehension is a lengthy task and does not lend itself to the letters forum. Still one might hope that anyone seriously interested will come across one of the perspectives you have linked to.

I was appalled by that particular letter - surely the writer must have thought about the impact her words would have on some of the young women who've already had their first dose of Gardasil? Or perhaps not... But you're right - a rebuttal like this one would never make it past the editor of the 'letters' page without some cutting that would probably render it useless. And hopefully the blog post will reach a wider audience anyway :-)

I would have followed from Alison's lead, but with a very short reply (aiming to avoid editing!). Something like:

It is the amount of a substance that makes it a poison. For sodium borate to be poisonous, Mr SillyTwit would have to take fifty times the number of vaccines he does in a lifetime, all in one day. His other concerns are equally at fault. I would encourage readers to use information from those knowledge about the subject, such as the IMAC (www.immune.org.nz).

(With the correct number of vaccines, etc., obviously.)

You don't feel like writing to our free paper, do you? ;-) Just teasing... I should do it myself. I fired off the blog post before we went on holiday, I was SO cross with that letter! But now we're back I should put something where the writer's more likely to read it, & then sit back & see what eventuates.

For those who can stand reading it - this site (http://www.nzcpr.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=672&start=15&st=0&sk=t&sd=a) presses all the 'right' buttons: conspiracy theory, evil Big Pharma, arrogant doctors.... not to mention parrotting the ">10,000 adverse reactions & 29 deaths" bit without taking the time to read the actual data or recognise the VAERS database for what it is. At least there's one person there trying to discuss things rationally.

Mind you, I suppose I'm just another 'blind' scientist...

Thanks Alison, that was painful.
I thought it amusing that her own references don't support her case in some instances eg The Merk insert and precancerous lesions.

re; writing a letter myself, aside from being short on time, it'd look a little out of place for me to reply to a letter I haven't even read!

I presume you have by now seen the Anti-vax convention that is this weeks letters section? I am seriously reconsidering my own decision not to write a reply letter, lots more to tackle now.

I have indeed; it gave me indigestion. All the usual canards - falsely linking vaccines & autism; 'just knowing' that the 'insecticide' in Gardasil kills people; that nasty tween-80 breaking down the blood-brain barrier...

You're right, both of us need to write. & prepare ourselves for the subsequent barrage of vilification...

No vilification yet but I imagine next week will be a different story.
Do you ever read the incomprehensible "Thought 4 All" column? for ridiculous nonsense it can't be beaten.

I read it very occasionally - when I'm in need of a serious giggle... Although sometimes it has the effect of raising my blood pressure instead :-)

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  • Darcy: No vilification yet but I imagine next week will be read more
  • Alison Campbell: I have indeed; it gave me indigestion. All the usual read more
  • Darcy Cowan: I presume you have by now seen the Anti-vax convention read more
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  • Grant: I would have followed from Alison's lead, but with a read more
  • Alison Campbell: I was appalled by that particular letter - surely the read more