MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

EBM

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For all of you who, like myself, like the occasional glass or two of wine:

THERE IS GOOD NEWS!

Wine is the latest alternative measure against COVID-19.

This, at least, is what an article sent to me seems to suggest:

At the end of the year, American researchers showed in-vitro that polyphenols in grapes and wine disrupt the way the Sars-Cov2 virus that causes Covid-19 replicates and spreads.

The Taiwan Medical University found that the tannins in wine effectively inhibit the activity of two key enzymes of the virus, which can no longer penetrate cell tissue.

“Of all the natural compounds we have tested in the laboratory, tannic acid is the most effective,” said Mien-Chie Hung, a molecular biologist and president of the university, on TVBS. He also recalled the good results obtained with experimental tannic acid treatments in 2003 during the SARS pandemic.

Now I understand why I haven’t caught the bug yet, I thought to myself, while pouring a large glass of red Bordeaux, my favorite. After yet another glass, I began to feel bad. No, not because of an alcohol overdose. Because I omitted something that might be not unimportant: I should really have told you who sent me the article. It was a source entirely devoted to the promotion of wine, a source related to my wine merchant.

Ah well, I thought, pouring a further glass.

When, many hours later, I had finally sobered up, I decided to conduct a few Medline searches. This is when I found this:

Greatly encouraged, I poured another glass.

 

 

 

PS

As, in my experience, COVID deniers are not the brightest buttons in the drawer, I should point out that THIS POST IS MEANT TO BE SATIRE.

Yesterday, my new book arrived on my doorstep.

WHAT JOY!

Its full title is CHARLES, THE ALTERNATIVE PRINCE. AN UNAUTHORISED BIOGRAPHY. I guess that it also clarifies its contents. In case you want to know more, here is the full list of topics:

Foreword by Nick Ross v  Charles, The Alternative Prince: An Unauthorised Biography
1. Why this Book? 1
2. Why this Author? 5
3. Words and Meanings 10
4. How Did It All Start? 13
5. Laurens van der Post 17
6. The British Medical Association 25
7. Talking Health 31
8. Osteopathy 37
9. Chiropractic 43
10. The Foundation of Integrated Health 50
11. Open Letter to The Times 56
12. The Model Hospital 62
13. Integrated Medicine 66
14. The Gerson Therapy 73
15. Herbal Medicine 77
16. The Smallwood Report 82
17. World Health Organisation 90
18. Traditional Chinese Medicine 96
19. The ‘GetWellUK’ Study 100
20. Bravewell 106
21. Duchy Originals Detox Tincture 110
22. Charles’ Letters to Health Politicians 115
23. The College of Medicine and Integrated Health 120
24. The Enemy of Enlightenment 126
25. Harmony 132
26. Antibiotic Overuse 142
27. Ayurvedic Medicine 147
28. Social Prescribing 154
29. Homeopathy 160
30. Final Thoughts 169
Glossary 180
End Notes 187
Index 202

In case you want to know more, here is chapter 1 of my book:

Over the past two decades, I have supported efforts to focus healthcare on the particular needs of the individual patient, employing the best and most appropriate forms of treatment from both orthodox and complementary medicine in a more integrated way.[1]

The Prince of Wales 1997

This is a charmingly British understatement, indeed! Charles has been the most persistent champion of alternative medicine in the UK and perhaps even in the world. Since the early 1980s, he has done everything in his power

  • to boost the image of alternative medicine,
  • to improve the status of alternative practitioners,
  • to make alternative therapies more available to the general public,
  • to lobby that it should be paid for by the National Health Service (NHS),
  • to ensure the press reported favourably about the subject,
  • to influence politicians to provide more support for alternative medicine.

He has fought for these aims on a personal, emotional, political, and societal level. He has used his time, his intuition, his influence, and occasionally his money to achieve his goals. In 2010, he even wrote a book, ‘Harmony’, in which he explains his ideas in some detail[2] (discussed in chapter 25, arguably the central chapter of this biography). Charles has thus become the undisputed champion of the realm of alternative medicine. For that he is admired by alternative practitioners across the globe.

Yet, his relentless efforts are not appreciated by everyone (another British understatement!). There are those who view his interventions as counter-productive distractions from the important and never-ending task to improve modern healthcare. There are those who warn that integrating treatments of dubious validity into our medical routine will render healthcare less efficient. There are those who claim that the Prince’s preoccupation with matters that he is not qualified to fully comprehend is a disservice to public health. And there are those who insist that the role of the heir to the throne does not include interfering with health politics.

  • So, are Charles’ ideas new and exciting?
  • Or are they obsolete and irrational?
  • Has Charles become the saviour of UK healthcare?
  • Or has he hindered progress?
  • Is he a role model for medical innovators?
  • Or the laughing stock of the experts?
  • Is he a successful reformer of healthcare?
  • Or are his concepts doomed to failure?

Charles appears to evade critical questions of this nature. Relying on his intuition, he unwaveringly pursues and promotes his personal beliefs, regardless of the evidence (Box 1). He believes strongly in his mission and is, as most observers agree, full of good intentions. If he even notices any criticism, it is merely to reaffirm his resolve and redouble his efforts. He is reported to work tirelessly, and one could easily get the impression that he is obsessed with his idea of integrating alternative medicine into conventional healthcare.

I have observed Charles’ efforts around alternative medicine for the last 30 years. Occasionally, I was involved in some of them. For 19 years, I have headed the world’s most productive team of researchers in alternative medicine. This background puts me in a unique position to write this account of Charles’ ‘love affair’ with alternative medicine. It is not just a simple outline of Charles’ views and actions but also a critical analysis of the evidence that does or does not support them. In writing it, I pursue several aims:

    1. I want to summarise this part of medical history, as it amounts to an important contribution to the recent development of alternative medicine in the UK and beyond.
    2. I hope to explain how Charles and other enthusiasts of alternative medicine think, what motivates them and what logic they follow.
    3. I will contrast Charles’ beliefs with the published evidence as it pertains to each of the alternative modalities (treatments and diagnostic methods) he supports.
    4. I want to stimulate my readers’ ability to think critically about health in general and alternative medicine in particular.

My book will thus provide an opportunity to weigh the arguments for and against alternative medicine. In that way, it might even provide Charles with a substitute for a discussion about his thoughts on alternative medicine which, during almost half a century, he so studiously managed to avoid.

In pursuing these aims there are also issues that I hope to avoid. From the start, I should declare an interest. Charles and I once shared a similar enthusiasm for alternative medicine. But, as new evidence emerged, I changed my mind and he did not. This led to much-publicised tensions and conflicts. Yet it would be too easy to dismiss this book as an act of vengeance. It isn’t. I have tried hard to be objective and dispassionate, setting out Charles’ claims as fairly as I can and comparing them with the most reliable evidence. As much as possible:

    1. I do not want my personal discords with Charles to get in the way of objectivity.
    2. I do not want to be unfairly dismissive of Charles and his ambitions.
    3. I do not want to be disrespectful about anyone’s deeply felt convictions.
    4. I do not aim to weaken the standing of our royal family.

My book follows Charles’ activities in roughly chronological order. Each time we encounter a new type of alternative medicine, I will try to contrast Charles’ perceptions with the scientific evidence that was available at the time. Most chapters of this book are thus divided into four parts

    1. A short introduction
    2. Charles’ views
    3. An outline of the evidence
    4. A comment about the consequences

While writing this book, one question occurred to me regularly: Why has nobody so far written a detailed history of Charles’s passion for alternative medicine? Surely, the account of Charles ‘love affair’ with alternative medicine is fascinating, diverse, revealing, and important!

I hope you agree.

BOX 1

The nature of evidence in medicine and science

  • Evidence is the body of facts, often created through experiments under controlled conditions, that lead to a given conclusion.
  • Evidence must be neutral and give equal weight to data that fail to conform to our expectations.
  • Evidence is normally used towards rejecting or supporting a hypothesis.
  • In alternative medicine, the most relevant hypotheses often relate to the efficacy of a therapy.
  • Such hypotheses are best tested with controlled clinical trials where a group of patients is divided into two subgroups and only one is given the therapy to be tested; subsequently the results of both groups are compared.
  • Experience does not amount to evidence and is a poor indicator of efficacy; it can be influenced by several phenomena, e.g. placebo effects, natural history of the condition, regression towards the mean.
  • If the results of clinical studies are contradictory, the best available evidence is usually a systematic review of the totality of rigorous trials.
  • Systematic reviews are methods to minimise random and selection biases. The most reliable systematic reviews are, according to a broad consensus, those from the Cochrane Collaboration.

[1] https://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/speech/article-hrh-prince-wales-titled-science-and-homeopathy-must-work-harmony-daily-telegraph

[2] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Harmony-New-Way-Looking-World/dp/0007348037

In case you want to know even more – and I hope you do – please get yourself a copy.

Guest post by Tobias Katz

What do we know?

ICU admission

Taken from the BMJ (Ref 1): ICNARC latest report 31/12/21 showed that the proportion of patients admitted to critical care in December 2021 with confirmed covid-19 who were unvaccinated was 61%.

Prevention of infection

The government’s week 45 Covid surveillance report (Ref 3) is clear that vaccination prevention of infection (positive PCR, for Delta) effectiveness is estimated at 65% for Oxford-AstraZeneca and 80% for Pfizer.

Prevention of transmission

The Lancet’s (Ref 4) paper, suggests once infected, initial viral load is similar for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, suggesting likely equal chance of transmitting on the virus.

Protection of the individual

Ref 3, is clear cut that vaccination protects individuals from hospitalisation and severe infection (for Delta).

(Omicron) “Among those who had received 2 doses of AstraZeneca, there was no effect against Omicron from 20 weeks after the second dose. Among those who had received 2 doses of Pfizer or Moderna effectiveness dropped from around 65-70% down to around 10% by 20 weeks after the 2nd dose. 2 to 4 weeks after a booster dose vaccine effectiveness ranged from around 65 to 75%, dropping to 55 to 70% at 5 to 9 weeks and 40-50% from 10+ weeks after the booster.” (Ref 2)

Effectiveness here is measured by admission to hospital and shows the necessity for booster jabs when fighting Omicron.

Who are Dr James and Dr Malhotra?

Steven James, consultant anaesthetist, has recently been in the news for confronting Sajid Javid RE mandatory vaccinations for hospital and nursing staff. “The science isn’t strong enough” to support the policy he stated and “I’ve got antibodies”, suggesting that he’s as protected as he would be if he had a vaccine.

Aseem Malhotra, who goes by the name of ‘lifestylemedicinedoctor’ on Instagram is an extremely controversial cardiology consultant who seems to be Djokovic’s biggest fan and whose tweets are passionately quoted and forwarded by anti-vaxxers.

With tweets such as “Mark my words, with everything we know and don’t know about the current vaccine Novak Djokovic will ultimately be proven to be on the right side of history #BadPharma #truth #transparency #InformedConsent”:

And a retweet: “Dr Jordan Peterson Oh well. It’s just fertility. Women’s Periods May Be Late After Coronavirus Vaccination, Study Suggests”; he stirs the cooking pot of anti-establishment rhetoric and only deepens an already fractured relationship between doctors and their patients caused by the pandemic.

You’d think a mature, well-researched doctor would be able to tell the difference between the menstrual cycle and becoming fertile. You’d also hope he would not be short-sighted enough to support one of the most anti-science/anti-conventional medicine public figures in the world (see here)… Alas, no.

I feel as though both of these figures need to be reminded of their ethical duty of candour as doctors and reminded that their public actions have consequences. I may not completely disagree with Dr James (RE mandatory vaccinations) but the way in which he conducted himself during this nationally broadcasted video left many shaking with rage as it undermines many of his health professional colleagues. Me, included.

When a doctor appears on national news, opposing [mandatory] vaccination and offering incorrect explanations of why this is so, it should be obvious to them that their opinion will inevitably act as anti-vaccine propaganda, whether meant for this or not.

Malhotra’s ideas (cutting back on statins, healthy diet etc.) are often worth consideration/evaluation and as a new-age medical ‘influencer’ with 130k+ followers on Twitter, with ample publications behind him, he deserves to be listened to. Not necessarily agreed with, but listened to. But he also has a duty as a doctor to guard against complacency. Similar to James’ public actions, Malhotra’s tweets that are so one-sided give a biased, inaccurate and frankly dangerous view on the efficacy and safety profile of COVID vaccinations that have been safely and effectively used in millions of people to prevent hospitalisations. Is he doing it for the views? The hits? The likes? The retweets? To have people recognise him for his Pioppi diet?

What should we do?

Candour

Doctors, including James and Malhotra have an ethical responsibility not to spread imperfect information to a wide-receiving audience where their actions can be misconstrued and misrepresented so easily. Doing so may bolster anti-vaccine views, cause less ‘on-the-fence’ people to get the jabs and essentially lead to more preventable deaths.

More and more we are seeing social media take over and often act as the public’s primary source of news. More doctors than ever are now in the [social] media limelight. Some, such as Dr Alex George (mental health advocate) are promoting health responsibly. Others, seek to undermine it. In an era when Joe Rogan has more daily views than Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, to ignore and not rebut [health] social media giants like Malhotra would just worsen the situation. Malhotra and James need to be challenged by the scientific community, as the BBC so brilliantly did here.

Complacency

If doctors want to become socialite Instagram influencers, they must do this without complacency. I think this means being responsible when offering controversial and potentially public health implicating opinions where evidence isn’t clear cut.

Final thoughts

Using all the possible information above, as the vaccines are not 100% without risk, transmission is not completely cut post-vaccine and as we have a decent-ish way of monitoring infection (lateral flows and PCRs), I feel as though mandating vaccines for all NHS staff is currently unjust. I see Steve’s point. But I’d be extremely careful in how I’d make this point. And certainly not on live Sky News when the nation is watching, where it will inevitably be seized upon by the anti-vax community.

Saying this, the data is pretty clear that there is evidence that the vaccines offer protection against infection, reducing viral load quicker once infected and against hospitalisation and so if you’re a rational doctor who thinks that at least one time your lateral flow test may give a false negative, it makes complete sense to get your vaccine to protect your patients…

References

  1. https://www.bmj.com/content/376/bmj.o5?fbclid=IwAR2MgoD_vYo0FsaVsQdLxfeYCukuRu2RegcJa-HclA13byhH71g-AnNhnP8
  2. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1045329/Vaccine_surveillance_report_week_1_2022.pdf
  3. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1032859/Vaccine_surveillance_report_-_week_45.pdf
  4. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(21)00690-3/fulltext

 

On this blog and elsewhere, I have heard many strange arguments against COVID-19 vaccinations. I get the impression that most proponents of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) hold or sympathize with such notions. Here is a list of those arguments that have come up most frequently together with my (very short) comments:

COVID is not dangerous

It’s just a flu and nothing to be really afraid of, they say. Therefore, no good reason exists for getting vaccinated. This, I think, is easily countered by pointing out that to date about 5.5 million people have died of COVID-19. In addition, I fear that the issues of ‘long-COVID’ is omitted in such discussions

It’s only the oldies who die

As an oldie myself, I find this argument quite distasteful. More importantly, it is simply not correct.

Vaccines don’t work

True they do not protect us 100% from the infection. But they very dramatically reduce the likelihood of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

Vaccines are unsafe

We have now administered almost 10 billion vaccinations worldwide. Thus we know a lot about the risks. In absolute terms, there is a vast amount of cases, and it would be very odd otherwise; just think of the rate of nocebo effects that must be expected. However, the risks are mostly minor, and serious ones are very rare. Some anti-vaxxers predicted that, by last September, the vaccinated population would be dead. This did not happen, did it? The fact is that the benefits of these vaccinations hugely outweigh the risks.

Vaccines are a vicious tracking system

Some claim that ‘they‘ use vaccines to be able to trace the vaccinated people. Who are ‘they‘, and why would anyone want to trace me when my credit card, mobile phone, etc. already could do that?

Vaccines are used for population control

They‘ want to reduce the world population through deadly vaccines to ~5 billion, some anti-vaxxers say. Again, who are ‘they‘ and would ‘they‘ want to do that? Presumably ‘they‘ need us to pay taxes and buy their goods and services.

There has not been enough research

If those who make this argument would bother to go on Medline and look for COVID-related research, they might see how ill-informed this argument is. Since 2021, more than 200 000 papers on the subject have emerged.

I trust my immune system

This is just daft. I am triple-vaccinated and also hope that I can trust my immune system – this is why I got vaccinated in the first place. Vaccinations rely on the immune system to work.

It’s all about making money

Yes, the pharma industry aims to make money; this is a sad reality. But does that really mean that their products are useless? I don’t see the logic here.

People should have the choice

I am all for it! But if someone’s poor choice endangers my life, I do object. For instance, I expect other people not to smoke in public places, stop at red traffic lights and drive on the correct side of the street.

Most COVID patients in hospitals have been vaccinated

If a large percentage of the population has been vaccinated and the vaccine conveys not 100% protection, it would be most surprising, if it were otherwise.

I have a friend who…

All sorts of anecdotes are in circulation. The thing to remember here is that the plural of anecdote is anecdotes and not evidence.

SCAM works just as well

Of course, that argument had to be expected from SCAM proponents. The best response here is this: SHOW ME THE EVIDENCE! In response SCAM fans have so far only been able to produce ‘studies’ that are unconvincing or outright laughable.

In conclusion, the arguments put forward by anti-vaxxers or vaccination-hesitant people are rubbish. It is time they inform themselves better and consider information that originates from outside their bubble. It is time they realize that their attitude is endangering others.

 

For my last post of the year 2021, I take the liberty to borrow parts of a BMJ editorial entitled A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION OF HEALTH WORKERS:

The prospect of a return to normality seems within reach. But what will that normality look like? We believe that health workers, who have been at the frontline of the pandemic, must offer a vision of a healthier future. We must not let the terrible events of this year recast the pre-pandemic world in a glowing light. The normality we departed from at the onset of the pandemic was unjust, unsustainable, and shaped the evolution of, and responses to, the pandemic with devastating consequences, particularly for the most deprived and vulnerable.

The start of a new year offers an opportunity to question old ways of working and to ask how we can create a better future for everyone. It is a cliché to say that you should never waste a crisis. Just as in wartime and in the global financial crisis, many have profited greatly from the pandemic, whether as providers of online services or by taking advantage of the rush to procure essential goods such as personal protective equipment.

But many were far less fortunate, living in circumstances that rendered them vulnerable to an infection that spread especially rapidly through communities where successive generations had been living ever more precarious lives. As the recovery begins, the powerful groups who benefited from the social and economic systems that created those conditions will, once again, seek to shape the world to their advantage. Health workers cannot remain silent. They must offer a compelling vision of how we should reconfigure the world so that it produces and sustains health for all, resilient in the face of future threats…

A country navigating the pandemic is like a ship navigating treacherous and unpredictable waters in a storm. If the ship, its crew, and its passengers are to come through the experience unscathed it needs three things. First, it needs an experienced captain who understands the ship and commands the trust of the crew. Unfortunately, in some of the countries worst affected, captains were either away from the bridge, denied there was a storm, or had lost the trust of those on whom they depended.

Second, it needs a crew that is adequate for the size of the ship, that is well trained, and that is working as a team to achieve the same goal. Yet in too many countries, skeleton crews were working in health systems that were highly fragmented. Dissenting voices who raise the alarm about the integrity of the ship, the working of the team, or its leadership must not be silenced or lives can be lost. It also needs passengers who are as seaworthy as possible so that they can withstand the storm. One of the sentinel challenges of covid-19 was finding large segments of the population weighted by a disproportionate burden of preventable disease that predisposed them to severe covid-19 once infected.

Third, we need a ship that is securely constructed. Yet in many of the countries that have fared worst, we have been working in vessels that are full of holes. Social safety nets have been ripped asunder, allowing too many people to fall through the holes. We have made many demands on our people—to stay at home, to face loss of income—and we have added greater uncertainty to what were already difficult situations, particularly for certain racially and economically marginalised groups. The disproportionate exposure to covid-19 of many in these groups—a consequence of precarious jobs and social circumstances that denied them the luxury of social distancing—drove, in large part, the high burden of covid-19 among minority and marginalised groups worldwide.

As we look to the prospect of a covid-19 secure future, with effective vaccines, new treatments, and continued countermeasures as necessary, we must ask how we can strengthen the foundations of our societies, coming together to repair the torn safety nets. We must never be afraid to challenge our political leaders when they are going in the wrong direction, and we must insist that they really are guided by the science, and not just those bits that support their beliefs. And we must ensure that our fellow citizens are as healthy as possible so they can withstand the inevitable storms that lie ahead. We must insist that our health systems and other public systems are adequately staffed, with the tools needed to do the job, with teams that are working together, pulling in the same direction. If we do all this, then we, and the populations we serve, can be confident that we can weather any future storms.

___________________________

The editorial was written by 4 authors:

  1. Martin McKee, professor of European public health
  2. May C I van Schalkwyk, NIHR doctoral research fellow
  3. Nason Maani, assistant professor in public health evaluation
  4. Sandro Galea, dean

I think it is most sensible and thought-provoking and I suspect many of us agree with its sentiments. If it did not make you think, perhaps this information will do so:

The editorial was published one year ago in the Christmas issue of the BMJ

2020!

Yes, 2021 has disappointed many of our hopes and turned out to be a difficult year.

I wish us all that 2022 will be better, much better.

The Corona Committee (Corona Ausschuss) was founded in Berlin in July 2020 by the lawyers Viviane Fischer, Antonia Fischer, Dr. Reiner Füllmich, and Dr. Justus Hoffmann. Its aim is to provide a “factual analysis” of the coronavirus events and the consequences of the measures taken against them. In live sessions lasting several hours, the committee hears experts from all COVID-affected fields.

In an interview, Dr. Fuellmich said: “The decision to set up a Corona Inquiry Committee came about in the first telephone conversation Viviane Fischer and I ever had. After I had spoken out in the USA via various videos since April 2020 about the fact that the principle ‘audiatur et altera pars’ (hear the other side as well) had been blatantly violated here on the part of the government, I had come back to Germany from the USA because I felt that this was now my place and that I had to stand up here to ensure that our democracy and our constitutional state did not go completely to the dogs. I wanted to organize a symposium on the legal issues surrounding Corona, but I didn’t know any critical lawyers in Germany. I called my old friend Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, whom I knew from the Justice Working Group at Transparency International, and he then referred me to Viviane Fischer.”

The ‘Speerspitze‘, an “anonymous collective of contrarians, Corona deniers, Nazi witches and conspiracy heretics” considers the work of the Corona Committee to be “one of the most important pillars of the fight against the madness to which we have been subjected for the last year and a half and [has] great respect for all the activists, actors, and interviewees of the Committee who publicly denounce with their name and face what is happening.” Numerous further websites have joined in the promotion of the Corona Committee.

However, if you look at the information that the Corona Committee is disseminating, and if you are able to think critically, you are likely to come to very different conclusions:

– There is the expert who warns that the unvaccinated could soon be picked up and put into concentration camps. There is the threat of a “manhunt”, and loving parents might then have to hide their children under the boards of the floor at home to prevent them from being sprayed to death.

– There is the man who claims that Israel’s government is currently carrying out a holocaust on its own population (“You can see that by how many people are dying from the vaccinations”). A guest declares that there are “something like living octopuses” in the vaccine against Corona.

Anyone who takes a look at the many tediously long videos will quickly realize that every Corona denier, vaccination opponent, conspiracy theorist, mask opponent, and lateral thinker, no matter how paranoid, have their say here and spreads their pipe dreams under the guise of evidence-based information with the nodding approval of the lawyers present. Opposition is never raised and there is no trace of ‘audiatur et altera pars’; everyone agrees: worldwide, all governments are hell-bound at smashing everything there is to govern.

For those who are still not fed up, the website of the Corona Committee offers written answers to 31 very specific questions. Here is just one.

QUESTION: IS THE COVID-19 DISEASE SEVERE AND WIDESPREAD?

ANSWER: No, most people have no or only mild flu symptoms. Children and adolescents are extremely rarely affected. Post-mortem examinations by a Hamburg forensic pathologist on over 100 elderly people who died with a positive corona test revealed at least one other serious cause of death in all cases. Other published figures are mostly based on non-transparent attributions and assumptions without excluding other causes. Often, no attention was even paid to other pathogens or previous medication.

Factual analyses?

Afraid not!

For a long time, I have been wondering where the penetratingly vociferous opposition to COVID vaccinations in Germany might come from. After studying the dangerous nonsense that the Corona Committee has been spreading for many months, I wonder a little less.

(texts in German were translated by me)

By guest blogger Ken Harvey

Loretta Marron was the catalyst. The ‘critical thinking’ bug hit her as a child, reinforced by a BSc in Physics. If something didn’t sound logical, she couldn’t let it go. She had to check. She killed many a party by disputing misinformation – with evidence.

TV advertisements for magnetic underlays got her going, then homeopathic remedies, followed by ‘natural’ cures for cancer. To investigate outlandish claims and submit complaints, she needed to consult with experts. These included Professors John Dwyer (Medicine and Immunology) and Alastair MacLennan (Obstetrics and Gynaecology). They were always willing to help.

They also had concerns about universities teaching pseudoscience, such as ‘subluxation theory’ in chiropractic and ‘meridians’ in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In late 2011, Professor Dwyer proposed that Loretta join forces with Professors Alastair MacLennan, Marcello Costa (neuroscientist), and Rob Morrison (science communicator) to form a new organisation promoting scientific evidence in health care. Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM) was born. John Dwyer was the inaugural President and Loretta Marron Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

The aim was to emphasise the importance of basing Australian health care on scientifically sound research and established scientific knowledge published in peer-reviewed journals of accepted standing. Valuing scientific rigour is especially important in an age where unsubstantiated health claims are rampant and scientific consensus is ‘imbalanced’ by the views of extremists.

FSM’s focus is helping consumers and health professionals to make more informed choices about medical interventions, medicines, and medical devices. We do this by submitting complaints about unethical practice, analysing policy, making submissions, encouraging regulators to act, and being a credible source of expertise for the media and others. We also encourage tertiary institutions and medicine and health sciences students to critically appraise therapeutic products and services as part of the courses offered.

Currently, FSM has more than 1,200 leading scientists, clinicians, lawyers, and consumer advocates as supporters. We also work closely with organisations such as Australian Skeptics and Choice (Australian Consumers Association).

I took over as President from John Dwyer in 2019. Loretta remains FSM CEO. The founding members continue their involvement as consultants. Ten years on, it’s worth reflecting on what has been achieved and the ongoing challenges.

An appendix lists some of the areas in which FSM has been involved and the outcomes achieved (often with the help of others).

Unethical promotion of therapeutic goods and services remain an ongoing concern. The advertising of therapeutic goods is subject to provisions in the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code, first promulgated in 1999. Until July 2018, complaints about alleged Code violations were heard by the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Complaints Resolution Panel (CRP), thereafter by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

FSM members submitted numerous complaints to the CRP and analysed the outcome. If a complaint was upheld, the CRP could only ‘recommend’ that it be removed. If it was not, the complaint was referred to the TGA for action. We found that certain companies consistently ignored the determinations of the CRP and, when referred to the TGA, took resulting action.

In July 2018, FSM engagement with numerous consultations and reviews eventually resulted in the TGA taking over the advertising complaint system. The TGA was given stronger investigative and compliance powers and a revised, legally enforceable advertising code. However, given the TGA’s previous track record, we continued to submit complaints, including many previously upheld by the CRP, but for which promotion continued.

An analysis of the first 12 months of the new system found that the TGA had classified most complaints as ‘low priority’. These were either ignored or closed by sending the advertiser a ‘Regulatory Obligation letter’ which stated that no further action would be taken. While the letter sometimes worked, often it did not. Stronger compliance powers were rarely used. The new complaint system was also less transparent than the one it replaced. For those low priority complaints with published outcomes, no details of the product, advertiser, or alleged Code violation were published, and no follow-up was recorded. Of 121 higher priority complaints, 79% failed to meet their key performance indicator, time to closure in 60–90 days. These included complaints about dangerous sports supplements and ineffective weight loss and hangover products.

In August 2020, an independent review of the first two years of the TGA’s compliant system was published. The study noted an unexpectedly high volume of complaints since the TGA took over the advertising complaints system, producing a large and growing backlog. A government-appointed consultant (ThinkPlace Pty Ltd) stated that providing more resources would not be in the public interest. Instead, they recommended a more cost-effective and efficient approach: amalgamating all complaints into an information database from which the TGA could consider compliance priorities.

As a result, complaints were closed by sending complainants a letter stating that their complaints will be used for ‘intelligence’ to set priorities. The TGA said risk assessment informed whether a complaint was converted into a case for investigation or stored in their information database to determine future compliance priorities. Therapeutic goods associated with COVID-19 were declared ‘priority 1’, while weight loss, hangover, and four other products groups were said to be ‘priority 2’.

A focus on COVID-19 stimulated the TGA to deal with some of these complaints more effectively. However, apart from token action on individual products, no systemic action was taken on weight loss, hangover products and many other objects of our complaints.

More recently, the TGA’s complaint database for 2018 -2020 has been removed and replaced by a new database containing only a few complaints pre-2021. In addition, the fields of many ‘products’ and ‘responsible person’, are missing. The TGA say that migration of data to the new system is continuing. Meanwhile, complainants now only receive an automated acknowledgment.

Transparency remains a problem as there is no clear indication of how many complaints the TGA receives, what they are about, how many are filed for ‘intelligence’’, how many are actioned, and what outcome eventuates.

Given this lamentable state of affairs, in association with Australian Skeptics, it is proposed to publish reports on all complaints submitted to the TGA in 2022 and their outcomes. Past experience shows that documenting problems, pointing out underlying issues and putting forward solutions can produce progress. But patience and persistence are required.

FSM has grappled with unethical advertising of pseudo-medical interventions. Controls differ for practitioners regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and those regulated by State and Territory Health Complaints Commissioners. The former includes medical practitioners, pharmacists, nurses, chiropractors, osteopaths, and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. The latter includes naturopaths, homeopaths, and practitioners of western herbal medicine.

FSM has held regular meetings with AHPRA senior managers. We have also met several of their national boards and attended stakeholder forums. Chiropractic was an initial focus. Many practitioners advertised that chiropractic care in pregnancy could shorten labour duration and prevent caesarean delivery – despite the absence of evidence. Pregnant women were warned that labour often resulted in the newborn babe’s spinal misalignment, which could lead to numerous problems unless put right by regular chiropractic adjustments. It was also claimed that chiropractic ‘adjustments’ could improve attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, infantile colic, and ear infection.

In 2015, FSM submitted hundreds of complaints to AHPRA, alleging that chiropractic websites were in breach of both s.133 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009 and the Chiropractic Board of Australia’s Guidelines for advertising regulated health services. These provisions prohibit advertising which is false, misleading, or deceptive, creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment, or can encourage the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of health services.

Five years have passed since the Chiropractic Board first asked practitioners to ensure that their websites met legal advertising requirements. Over this time, the Board’s sole approach to this problem was educational. Although chiropractors consistently had the highest advertising complaints of all practitioners (38 per 1,000 chiropractors in 2013–14), no penalties nor disciplinary action had been applied for advertising offences.

FSM argued that repeated advertising offences required appropriate penalties. We also pointed out that some practitioners now invited patients to consult them about services they were no longer permitted to advertise. We said that limitations should be placed on chiropractic practice which lacked evidence.

AHPRA responded that, although it could act on misleading advertising, it had no power to restrict the scope of practice of chiropractors (or other registered practitioners). We said that, if lack of good evidence makes it illegal to publicly advertise a treatment, then it should be equally illegal to offer it to patients privately; after all, the real harm is caused by the treatment, not the advertising.

In 2019, following damning publicity and further representations, the Victorian Health Minister eventually instructed Safer Care Victoria (SCV) to undertake an independent review of the practice of chiropractic spinal manipulation on children under 12 years. The result was a recommendation that spinal manipulation should not be provided to children under 12 years of age, for general wellness or for the management of conditions such as hyperactivity disorders, infantile colic, or ear infections.

The Chiropractic Board has also stated that chiropractors are not trained to apply any direct treatment to an unborn child and should not deliver any treatment to the unborn child. Neither should they provide materials, information or advice that is anti-vaccination in nature. After numerous complaints from FSM members, the Chiropractic Board finally referred a prominent anti-vax chiropractor, Simon Floreani, to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). His registration was suspended for 6 months, and conditions placed on his re-registration.

FSM has not just been concerned about chiropractors. We have complained (with varied success) about medical practitioners promoting stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis, Traditional Chinese Medical practitioners claiming that acupuncture can treat infertility and dubious laboratory tests used in complementary and alternative medicine.

In conclusion, the peddling of unproven and sometimes dangerous remedies has existed throughout human history.

There will always be companies (and individuals) who put the pursuit of profit before ethical behaviour. There will always be advocates for de-regulation and regulators captured by industry. To protect consumers there must be opposing forces. That is the role that FSM is proud to play, along with colleagues from the sceptical community and consumer movements.

Appendix

FSM activities and outcomes (often in association with others), 2011-2021.

  1. Removal of extravagant claims for acupuncture from the World Health Organization website and instigation of a WHO evidence review.
  2. Involvement in the 2015 Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance for Natural Therapies. This led to removal of cover for therapies that lacked evidence such as homeopathy, iridology, reflexology and naturopathy (currently being reviewed again to see if additional evidence exits).
  3. Removal of unproven/disproven courses or modules from Australian universities.
  4. Removal of continuing professional development (CPD) points required annually by relevant registered practitioners for a number of AltMed courses.
  5. Following complaints to the TGA, removal of some illegal medicines not on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG).
  6. De-listing some complementary medicines and medical devices (such as ‘bio-resonance’ machines) lacking evidence.
  7. Getting the TGA to declare two products of self-declared ‘Foods for special medical purposes’ illegal therapeutic goods and have them removed from the market-place.
  8. Publishing academic articles, in peer-reviewed journals, documenting regulatory problems investigated and solutions suggested.
  9. Publishing articles in lay media on current problems including in The Conversation, MJA Insight and Pearls and Irritations (around 200 over the last 5 years).
  10. Responding to consultation requests from the TGA, Medical Boards, National Medicines Policy Review, and others.
  11. Achieving the suspension of anti-vax chiropractor Simon Floreani’s registration.
  12. Stimulating the Chiropractic Board to publish standards on pregnancy and paediatric care.
  13. Responsible for the setting up of AHPRA’s ‘Advertising Compliance’ section, including their pilot auditing system (yet to report).
  14. Responding to requests for information from journalists.
  15. Correction of misinformation from the Victorian government’s ‘Better Health’ Channel.
  16. Providing a complaints avenue for people who want to remain anonymous.

Anthony Fauci is the American physician, scientist, and immunologist who serves as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President. I have never met him in person but, from all that I know about him, I have great respect for him and his work (he also happens to share with me a John Maddox Prize for standing up for science; he received it in 2020 and I in 2015). Not everyone, however, shares my admiration for Fauci.Image

This week Lara Logan, a host on Fox News’ streaming platform Fox Nation, confirmed Godwin’s law by comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci to Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who performed some of the most horrific experiments on Jewish twins at Auschwitz Concentration Camp during the Third Reich: “This is what people say to me: He doesn’t represent science,” the former “Logan of Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He represents Josef Mengele … the Nazi doctor who did experiments on Jews during the Second World War in the concentration camps. And I am talking about people all across the world are saying this! Because the response from COVID. What it has done to countries everywhere. What it has done to civil liberties. The suicide rates. The poverty.”

She made the comment during an appearance on “Fox News Primetime,” following a rant about how there was “no justification for putting people out of their jobs or forcing mandates” for a disease that has death rates “that compare very much to seasonal flu.” (The death rate from COVID-19 is up to 10 times higher than that of most strains of the flu.)

Only hours after the comments by Logan, the Fox News host, Tucker Carlson has compared Dr Anthony Fauci to Italian fascist World War II dictator Benito Mussolini. Holocaust comparisons have become a common feature of protests against COVID-19 strategies. Conservative politicians and media personalities have repeatedly compared vaccine mandates and pandemic restrictions to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.

The US is sadly not alone. In Germany and Austria, such comparisons between the atrocities of the Third Reich and COVID vaccinations have become common too. In Germany, this has gone so far that the judiciary is now taking action against people who compare Corona politics with the crimes of Nazis.

Personally, I find these comparisons not just stupid but despicable, and I agree that they should be outlawed. Journalists, in particular, must know that by employing this type of rhetoric, they act against all decency and undermine our efforts to protect the public from the pandemic. I, therefore, feel that Logan, Carlson, and anyone else who descends that low should be prosecuted.

The 13th European Congress for Integrative Medicine is about to take place online between 4 and 7 November 2021. It will host 125+ speakers presenting from around the world. The programme will cover the following topics.

Even looking at the more detailed list of lectures, I did not find a single contribution on conventional medicine (“Integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with…” [see below]) or a lecture that is remotely critical of integrative medicine. The definition of INTEGRATED MEDICINE (IM) adopted here seems similar to the US definition we recently discussed. Here is the European definition:

Integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with evidence-informed complementary medicine and therapies to achieve the optimum health and wellbeing of the patient. Focusing on a holistic, patient-centred approach to healthcare, it takes into consideration the patient’s physical and psychological wellbeing and treats the whole person rather than just the disease.

Allow me to do a quick analysis of this definition by looking at its key elements:

  • Evidence-informed: While proper medicine is BASED on evidence, IM is merely INFORMED by it. The difference is fundamental. It allows IM clinicians to use any un- or disproven so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) they can think of or invent. The evidence for homeopathy fails to show that it is effective? Never mind, IM does not need to be evidence-based, it is evidence-informed. IM physicians know homeopathy is a placebo therapy (if not they would be ill-informed which would make them unethical), but they nevertheless use homeopathy (try to find an IM clinic that does not offer homeopathy!), because IM is not EBM. IM is evidence-informed!
  • Therapies that achieve optimum health and wellbeing. This is odd because the website also states that “therapies can include anything from acupuncture, yoga, massage, aromatherapy, herbal medicine, nutrition, exercise along with many more approaches, tailored to the needs of the individual” indicating that virtually anything can be included. Anyway, “optimum health and wellbeing” seems a strange and unachievable criterion. In fact, it is nothing but a ‘bait and switch‘ salesmen’s trick.
  • Holistic: This is a little trick that IM proponents love. With it, they imply that normal medicine is not holistic. However, this implication is demonstrably wrong. Any good medicine is holistic, and if a sector of healthcare fails to account for the whole person, we need to reform it. (Here are the conclusions of an editorial I published in 2007 entitled ‘Holistic heath care?‘: good health care is likely to be holistic but holistic health care, as it is marketed at present, is not necessarily good. The term ‘holistic’ may even be a ‘red herring’ which misleads patients. What matters most is whether or not any given approach optimally benefits the patient. This goal is best achieved with effective and safe interventions administered humanely — regardless of what label we put on them.) Creating a branch of medicine that, like IM, pretends to have a monopoly on holism is grossly misleading and can only hinder this process.
  • Patient-centred: This is the same mean little trick in a different guise. They imply that conventional medicine is not patient-centred. Yet, all good medicine is, of course, patient-centred. To imply otherwise is just daft.
  • Consideration of the patient’s physical and psychological wellbeing and treating the whole person rather than just the disease: Same trick yet again! The implication is that physical and psychological wellbeing and the whole person are not all that relevant in conventional medicine where only disease labels are being treated.

Altogether, this definition of IM is unworthy of anyone with the slightest ability to think critically. I find it much worse than the latest US definition (which already is fairly awful). In fact, it turns out to be a poorly disguised bonanza of strawman fallacies combined with ‘bait and switch’ deception.

How can this be?

How can a professional organisation engage in such mean trickery?

Perhaps a look at the list of speakers will go some way towards answering the question. Have a good look, you might recognize many individuals as members of our ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME.

PS

Registration costs £ 249 (standard rate)

PPS

Perhaps I should also mention at least 4 of the many commercial sponsors of the conference:

  • Boiron
  • Helixor
  • Iscador
  • Weleda

 

 

Guest post by Emeritus Professor Alastair MacLennan AO, MB ChB, MD, FRCOG, FRANZCOG

The sale and promotion of a therapeutic drug in most countries require rigorous assessment and licencing by that country’s therapeutic regulatory body. However, a new surgical technique can escape such checks and overview unless the technique is subject to local medical ethics review in the context of a research trial. New medical devices in Australia such as carbon dioxide or Er-YAG lasers can be listed on its therapeutic register without critical review of their efficacy and safety. Thermal injury to the postmenopausal vaginal wall in the hope of rejuvenating it has become a lucrative fad for some surgeons outside formal well-conducted clinical trials.

There are many published studies of this technique but the large majority are small, uncontrolled and observational. The few randomised controlled trials using sham controls show a placebo effect and debatable clinical efficacy with limited follow-up of adverse effects. A review of these therapies in July 2020 published by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence summarised apparent claims for some efficacy in terms of vaginal dryness, dyspareunia, sexual function, and incontinence but noted confounding in the study’s designs such as concurrent breast cancer treatments, local oestrogen therapy and lubricants (!). Most studies had very limited follow up for adverse events but elsewhere the literature has reported burns, infection, increased dyspareunia and scarring. There is no physiological mechanism by which burning atrophic vaginal epithelium will magically rejuvenate it.

A recent well-conducted randomised sham-controlled trial with a 12-month follow-up of Fractional Carbon Dioxide Laser for the treatment of vaginal symptoms associated with menopause has been published in JAMA by Li et al has shown no efficacy for this treatment(2).

At 12 months, there was no difference in overall symptom severity based on a 0-100 scale (zero equals no symptoms), with a reduction in symptom severity of 17.2 in the treatment group compared with 26.6 in the sham group.

The treatment had no impact on quality of life. “Sexual activity rates and quality of sex were not significantly different between the groups at baseline or 12 months”. The study compared 46 paired vaginal wall biopsies, taken at baseline and six months into treatment, and no significant histological improvement with laser was evident.

“The annual cost of laser treatment to the individual for management of vaginal menopausal symptoms was reported to be AUD$2,733, and because there is no demonstrable difference versus sham treatment, it cannot be considered to be cost-effective.”

Although one could still call for more quality sham-controlled randomised trials in different circumstances there is no justification for touting this therapy commercially. Complications following this therapy outside of ethical trials could become the next medico-legal mine-field.

Vaginal atrophy in the years after menopause is almost universal and is primarily due to oestrogen deficiency. The efficient solution is local vaginal oestrogen or systemic hormone replacement therapy. However, the misreporting of the Women’s Health Initiative and Million Women’s Study has created exaggerated fear of oestrogen therapies and thus a market for alternative and often unproven therapies (3). The way forward is education and tailoring of hormonal therapies to minimise risk and maximise efficacy and quality of life and not to resort to quackery.

References

1. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ipg697/documents/overview

2. Li FG, Maheux-Lacroix S, Deans R et al. Effect of Fractional Carbon Dioxide Laser vs Sham Treatment on Symptom Severity in Women With Postmenopausal Vaginal Symptoms A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2021;326:1381-1389.

3. MacLennan AH. Evidence-based review of therapies at the menopause. Int J Evid Based Healthc 2009; 7: 112-123.

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