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Vaccine Denial Pseudoscience

by Steven Novella, Jun 03 2013

I was recently asked about this article, Bedrock of vaccination theory crumbles as science reveals antibodies not necessary to fight viruses, which is a year old, but is making the rounds recently on social media. I was asked if there is any validity to the article. It’s from NaturalNews (not to be confused with NatureNews), which means, in my experience, it is almost certainly complete nonsense.

For the average consumer my advice is to completely ignore NaturalNews and Mike Adams. He is, among other things, an anti-vaccine crank. This article is written by staff writer Ethan Huff.  Let’s take a close look  and see if it lives up to the site’s reputation.

He writes:

While the medical, pharmaceutical, and vaccine industries are busy pushing new vaccines for practically every condition under the sun, a new study published in the journal Immunity completely deconstructs the entire vaccination theory. It turns out that the body’s natural immune systems, comprised of both innate and adaptive components, work together to ward off disease without the need for antibody-producing vaccines.

He opens with a bit of hyperbole – medical science is developing vaccines for infectious diseases that respond to vaccines, not “practically every condition under the sun.” Further, his word choice marks his piece as propaganda, referring to the medical “industry” rather than medical “science.”

He takes a nose dive, however, in his next sentence – he claims that one study (already a dubious claim) deconstructs the entire vaccine theory, which is built upon thousands of studies over decades of research. The study in question: B cell maintenance of subcapsular sinus macrophages protects against a fatal viral infection independent of adaptive immunity, is not even a study of vaccines.

He claims that the study shows that the immune system does not need antibodies. One should wonder why the immune system evolved such an elaborate system of antibody production, and why it expends so much energy doing so. Further, there are antibody-mediated autoimmune diseases, a tradeoff that only makes sense if antibodies serve some purpose.

He continues:

But the new research highlights the fact that innate immunity plays a significant role in fighting infections, and is perhaps more important than adaptive immunity at preventing or fighting infections. In tests, adaptive immune system antibodies were shown unable to fight infection by themselves, which in essence debunks the theory that vaccine-induced antibodies serve any legitimate function in preventing or fighting off infection

Without even looking at the study it can be seen that Huff’s logic is fatally flawed. Even if the study showed what he claims (it doesn’t), that antibodies cannot fight infections by themselves, that does not mean that antibodies serve no purpose, or that vaccines cannot work by stimulating the production of antibodies.

Before I dissect Huff’s nonsense further, here is a quick overview of the immune system. The immune system is actually very complicated. It has different components that are more effective at fighting off different kinds of infections in different parts of the body. There is humoral immunity, which is based upon antibody production (antibodies are proteins that bind to anything foreign to target the immune system against it), and there is cellular immunity, which is essentially white blood cells and macrophages, which are large cells that eat foreign material or dead cells.

You can also characterize different parts of the immune system as passive, or innate, vs adaptive. The innate immune system keeps out invaders and fights them off nonspecifically. The adaptive immune system remembers foreign bodies through the stimulation of B-cells, and can then mount a quicker and more vigorous immune response over time.

Adaptive immunity is how vaccines work – they expose the immune system to a weak infection, or to viral or bacterial elements, that then trigger the production of memory B-cells so that the next time the body is exposed a more rapid immune response can fight off the infection before it takes hold.

The importance of cellular vs antibody-mediated immunity and the various parts of the immune system differ with different infectious and foreign agents. What this study shows is that for a particular virus, which is a very small virus, the neurotropic vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), mice that have B-cells but do not produce antibodies were able to fight off the infection. The authors conclude that this means that B-cells are necessary to stimulate macrophages, which ultimately kill the virus, independent of adaptive immunity.

Huff’s primary illogic is in concluding that this study, which involved one particular type of virus, can be extrapolated to all infections. Given what we already know, this is absolutely not true.

For example, there are many types of disorders of immunodeficiency, including those who cannot make antibodies for themselves. They are highly susceptible to infections, and are treated by giving regular infusions of intravenous immunoglobulins (antibodies).

There is also all the evidence that vaccines actually work.

What Huff is doing is taking one study with very narrow implications, and then completely misinterpreting it. He ignores the vast scientific literature on the immune system, infectious diseases, and vaccines, and the complexity of the immune system to make very simplistic and wrong conclusions.

In short, this article is pure propaganda, not serious science. It is only evidence that NaturalNews is a crank website whose advice is best completely ignored.

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14 Responses to “Vaccine Denial Pseudoscience”

  1. Trimegistus says:

    The antivaxers are pretty obviously the end-point of thirty or forty years of environmental paranoia. The narrative is clear: Bad People (typically Corporations, but sometimes The Government and occasionally Doctors) are putting Chemicals in you (either directly, or in the water, or sprayed out of airplanes). Chemicals make you sick. Stop the Bad People and your body will be pure and live forever.

    One sees exactly the same dynamic in the OPEC-funded campaign against gas fracking, the unending paranoia about nuclear power, and of course the entire edifice of “alternative medicine.”

    • Max says:

      Yeah, if by endpoint you mean extreme end.
      One anti-vaxer told me that her 9 kids are home schooled, unvaccinated, and love Jesus.

    • Max says:

      Did you see the survey that says 16% of Democrats, 26% of Republicans, and 18% of others believe vaccines cause autism?
      http://www.skepticblog.org/2013/05/22/the-clowns-are-taking-over-the-circus/#comment-85267

    • Archie Clebberdale says:

      The thing is, you can’t reason with these anti-medicine types. When you talk to them they’ll just say that all the science supports what *they* say and of course I don’t have a stack of medical papers in my pocket and if I had, or on the rare occasion where accessing the internet at a social occasion is not frowned upon, they just say I’m cherry picking. Not to mention that all doctors are just shills for Big Pharma which wants to make us ill so they can sell more pills that don’t work. What they’re saying is in such obvious conflict with the real world they can see all around them, yet there is no reasoning with these people.
      I’ve given up frankly. The thing is how do we protect innocent people from them. The loons are always first and if you aren’t you’ll only instil the sense that where smoke is is fire.

  2. Phea says:

    Being born in ’51, I was given my polio vaccination before starting Kindergarten. I think it was all pretty new back then. One of my earliest memories was of the children and adults with polio in braces that I saw at that place, when I got my shot. I remember I was old enough to feel really bad for those crippled people. I sure hope no one ever has to suffer like that again because of ignorance and stupidity.

  3. TexasSkeptic says:

    I was a few years behind you, in the early 60’s we got the GUN.
    Agreed tho’, I worked with a doctor who was infected in Cuba, i guess before Bautista took over. Really affected his leg motion.

  4. BillG says:

    “Natural News”, the name conjures up the “good ole days”, you know when things were wholesome, simple and free of man’s chemicals and evil science.

    Free of vaccinations – (not) diphtheria and smallpox.
    Natural and chlorine free water – cholera, typhoid fever.
    Sans the evil of insectcides, pesticides, GMO’s – malaria, low crop yields, malnutrition.

    Yes, what a blast from the past to live in those times.
    (In 1900 20-percent of U.S. born children died before age five.)

  5. Adam says:

    As both an environmentalist and a skeptic, I feel the need to chime in here. NaturalNews is indeed rubbish, it makes me cringe every time I read a “news” article from them. The new age crowd that swallows that trash are as mindless as they come.

    But I feel the need to point out that the dangers from fracking and pesticide use are very real. Certain chemicals can and do cause real and serious problems in organisms and ecosystems. There are many documented cases of groundwater contamination as the result of fracking, which really shouldn’t be a surprise considering the methods. And in regards to pesticide effects especially, there is a plethora of peer-reviewed literature that clearly states the ecological, developmental, and physiological damages of various pesticides. And to imply that organic agriculture results in low crop yields and malnutrition is outright wrong.

    The anti-science views of the NaturalNews crowd is one extreme, but still another equally absurd extreme is the uncritical embracing of all things modern and technological as “progress”.

    • Kar-Affe says:

      I just feel I have to congratulate you to that statement. I think a lot of skeptics throw the baby out with the bathwater and adopt a certain kind of positivism. Not all progress is good and not all scienctific achievements will help the world to become a better place. New technical advancements will always be used in the way of gaining a maximum of profit with all the harm that comes with it.

  6. markx says:

    One thing anti-vaxxers choose to ignore is the thousands and thousands of detailed animal trials which have been and are being carried out worldwide.

    Vaccines are a necessity for many known animal pathogens, and results of controlled challenge trials are widely published and available in scientific journals.

    Here is a vaccine which demonstrates rapid development of immunity against Classical Swine Fever – the animals have protection against this highly pathogenic virus 3 days after vaccination. (unfortunately not all vaccines are that effective, but it is still wonderful technology).

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22235283

  7. chrismo says:

    After reading the whole journal article, it’s funny to note that the authors themselves note that neutralizing antibodies likely play a key role during secondary infection to prevent host cells from becoming infected. Thus, if a vaccine can provide sufficiently high levels of durable neutralizing antibodies, then those responses could protect against subsequent encounters with the live, wild-type virus.

    So the paper deals with protection against the virus in a naive host, and shows nothing about what vaccine mediated responses could do. What’s more, the naive hosts being examined are inbred mouse strains with additional specific mutations and then further immune ablating treatments in some cases, and the results may not apply to outbred populations. Because immune mechanisms for control of acute virus infections are often overlapping and have compensatory mechanisms, it’s also unclear whether the B cell responses in the antibody deficient mice are amped up to compensate for the lack of antibody mediated control. That doesn’t diminish the impact of their results, it’s just a caveat to these types of experiments.

    The extrapolation of the novel findings in the Immunity paper to the NaturalNews proclamations is horribly flawed, as pointed out in the blog, but typical of the anti vax community. Unfortunately, the antivaxxers either don’t know or completely ignore that the vaccine efficacy trials are always performed even if the immune responses measured in the Phase I and II trials looks favorable. The precise immune mechanisms involved in a vaccine conferring protection may take a very long time to elucidate even after high level efficacy is shown in Phase III trials.

  8. Beelzebud says:

    Natural News is featured on infowars (Alex Jones) quit a lot, so that should tell you something about them.

  9. Mustang55 says:

    “By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth…”