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

immunisation

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Chiropractors often claim that they are working tirelessly towards increasing public health. But how seriously should we take such claims?

The purpose of this study was to investigate weight-loss interventions offered by Canadian chiropractors. It is a secondary analysis of data from the Ontario Chiropractic Observation and Analysis STudy (Nc = 42 chiropractors, Np = 2162 patient encounters). Its results show that around two-thirds (61.3%) of patients who sought chiropractic care were either overweight or had obesity. Very few patients had weight loss managed by their chiropractor. Among patients with body mass index equal to or greater than 18.5 kg/m2, guideline recommended weight management was initiated or continued by Ontario chiropractors in only 5.4% of encounters. Chiropractors did not offer weight management interventions at different rates among patients who were of normal weight, overweight, or obese (P value = 0.23). Chiropractors who graduated after 2005 who may have been exposed to reforms in chiropractic education to include public health were significantly more likely to offer weight management than chiropractors who graduated between 1995 and 2005.

The authors concluded that the prevalence of weight management interventions offered to patients by Canadian chiropractors in Ontario was low. Health care policy and continued chiropractic educational reforms may provide further direction to improve weight-loss interventions offered by doctors of chiropractic to their patients.

This paper seems to confirm my suspicion that the claim of chiropractors working for public heath is little more than an advertising gimmick. If we also consider the often negative attitude of chiropractors towards vaccination, the claim even deteriorates into a sick joke. Chiropractors, I have previously argued, are undermining public health and are being educated to become a danger to public health.

A new paper reminds us that so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has been increasing in the United States and around the world, particularly at medical institutions known for providing rigorous evidence-based care. The use of SCAM may cause harm to patients through interactions with prescribed medications or by patients choosing to forego evidence-based care. SCAM may also put financial strain on patients as most SCAM expenditures are paid out-of-pocket.

Despite these drawbacks, patients continue to use SCAM due to a range of reasons, e.g. media promotion of SCAM therapies, dissatisfaction with conventional healthcare, a desire for more holistic care. Given the increasing demand for SCAM, many medical institutions now offer SCAM services. Several leaders of SCAM centres based at a highly respected academic medical institution have publicly expressed anti-vaccination views, and non-evidence-based philosophies run deep within SCAM.

Although there are financial incentives for institutions to provide SCAM, it is important to recognize that this legitimizes SCAM and may cause harm to patients. The poor regulation of SCAM allows for the continued distribution of products and services that have not been rigorously tested for safety and efficacy.

As I have tried to point out many times, the potential for harm caused by the increasing integration of SCAM can thus be summarised as follows:

  1. direct harm due to adverse effects such as toxicity of an herbal remedy, stroke after chiropractic manipulation, pneumothorax after acupuncture;
  2. direct harm through the use of bogus diagnostic techniques;
  3. direct harm by using materials from endangered species;
  4. indirect harm through incompetent advice such as recommendation not to immunize or discontinue prescribed medications;
  5. neglect due to using SCAM instead of an effective therapy for a serious condition;
  6. harm due to medicalising trivial states of reduced well-being;
  7. financial harm due to the costs of SCAM;
  8. harm through making a mockery of evidence-based medicine;
  9. harm caused by undermining rational thinking in the society at large;
  10. harm caused by inhibiting medical progress and research.

In case you see other ways in which SCAM can cause harm, please let me know by posting a comment.

A series of article in The Times yesterday (to which I had made several minor contributions) focussed on the dangers of homeoprophylaxis/homeopathic vaccinations. Sadly, the paper is behind a paywall. I therefore will try to summarise some of the relevant points.

A courageous Times-reporter went under cover to extract some of the anti-vaccination views from a lay homeopath. This particular homeopath happened to charge £330 from customers who want to protect themselves or their family from infectious diseases (£130 for a homeopathic remedy kit, plus £200 for the compulsory instructions via skype that automatically come with the kit). Here are some of the most obvious porkies uttered by that homeopath:

  • Only 30% of healthcare professionals get vaccinated.
  • Rubella is a very mild disease.
  • Cancer patients don’t get fever.
  • Measles mainly kills children with severe disease.
  • Anything which messes with natural immunity could contribute to autism.
  • Health officials devised a seven-step recipe to scare consumers into vaccinating their kids.
  • Fevers should be celebrated.

This new undercover research by the Times is reminiscent of our own investigation of 2002. At the time, we contacted 168 homoeopaths, of whom 104 (72%) responded, 27 (26%) withdrawing their answers after debriefing. We also contacted 63 chiropractors, of whom 22 (44%) responded, six (27%) withdrawing their responses after debriefing.  Only 3% of professional homoeopaths and 25% of the chiropractors advised in favour of the MMR vaccination. Almost half of the homoeopaths and nearly a fifth of the chiropractors advised against it. (This tiny and seemingly insignificant study almost cost me my job: some homeopaths complained to my peers at Exeter University who then, in their infinite wisdom, conducted a most unpleasant investigation into my allegedly ‘unethical’ research; full details of this amazing story are provided in my memoir.)

But perhaps you think that homeoprophylaxis might be effective after all? In this case, you would be mistaken! As discussed a couple of weeks ago, a recent study demonstrated that such treatments are ineffective. Its authors concluded that homeopathic vaccines do not evoke antibody responses and produce a response that is similar to placebo. In contrast, conventional vaccines provide a robust antibody response in the majority of those vaccinated.

The Times article stated that about half of all new parents have been exposed to anti-vaxx propaganda. Consequently, global measles cases have risen by 300% in the first three months of this year compared to last year. Faced with measles outbreaks across the world, it is hard to deny that homeopaths who promote homeopathic vaccinations are a significant risk to public health.

The Times considered the issue sufficiently important to add an editorial. Its opening sentence sums up the issue well, I think: The evidence supporting claims that homeopathic remedies offer an effective alternative to the measles vaccine can be summarised in one word: zero. And its concluding sentences are even clearer: Tobacco companies are obliged to carry prominent public health warnings on their products. Homeopaths should too.

If one agrees with this sentiment, I suggest, we also consider the same for some:

  1. chiropractors;
  2. doctors of anthroposophical medicine;
  3. naturopaths;
  4. doctors practising integrative medicine.

And furthermore I suggest we disregard the many pro-vaccination statements by the professional organisations of these clinicians – they are nothing but semi-transparent fig-leaves and a politically-correct lip services which they neither enforce nor even truly mean.

 

The three-year old Noah was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a blood cancer with a very good prognosis when treated (~85% of all children affected can be completely cured and expect to live a normal life). The child was admitted to hospital and, initially, chemotherapy was started. But the treatment was not finished, because the parents took their child home prematurely. The mother, a 22-year-old ‘holistic birth attendant’, had been against conventional treatments from the start. She nevertheless agreed to the first two rounds of chemotherapy — “because they can get a medical court order to force you to do it anyways for a child with his diagnosis”.

Noah’s parent treated their sons with a number of home remedies:

  • Rosemary,
  • colloidal silver,
  • Reishi mushroom tea,
  • Apricot seeds,
  • and other forms of SCAM.

After the child had gone missing, the police issued an alert:

“On April 22, 2019 the parents failed to bring in the child to a medically necessary hospital procedure. The parents have further refused to follow up with the life saving medical care the child needs.”

In a matter of hours, the parents and their child were found. Noah was then taken from his parents and was “now being medically treated,” the sheriff’s office stated. The parents, meanwhile, were being investigated on suspicion of child neglect.

They insist that they were merely trying to give their son alternative medical care, accusing the police and medical officials of stripping them of the right to choose their own treatment plan for their son. Their supporters call the state’s decision to take custody of Noah a “medical kidnapping”. Medical kidnapping is defined as the State taking away children from their parents so that the children can receive medical or surgical care which the parents would otherwise not allow to be administered.

“We’re not trying to refuse any kind of treatment,” the parents told reporters. “They think we’re refusing treatment all around, putting him in danger, trying to kill him. But not at all. We’re trying to save him.” An organization fighting on behalf of the parents, the Florida Freedom Alliance, which also supports “vaccine freedom,” argues that the couple should be entitled to “medical freedom” and freedom from “medical kidnappings.”

Who is right and who is wrong?

Are medical kidnappings legal?

I am, of course, not sure about the legalities. But I am fairly certain about the evidence in the above case:

  1. Noah’s condition is treatable, and in all likelihood he would be cured, if treated according to current oncological standards. This view was also confirmed by the oncologist who is in charge of treating him in hospital.
  2. None of the treatments mentioned by the parents are effective. In fact, alternative cancer cures are a myth; they do not exist and they will never exist. Once a treatment shows promise, it would be scientifically investigated. And, if the results are positive, it would become mainstream quicker than I can climb a tree.

Ethically Noah’s case could not be clearer: the child’s life must be saved, whether with the support of his parents or not. However strongly parents might feel about their under-age kids’ care, they do not own their children and must not be allowed to cause them significant harm.

The purpose of this recently published survey was to obtain the demographic profile and educational background of chiropractors with paediatric patients on a multinational scale.

A multinational online cross-sectional demographic survey was conducted over a 15-day period in July 2010. The survey was electronically administered via chiropractic associations in 17 countries, using SurveyMonkey for data acquisition, transfer, and descriptive analysis.

The response rate was 10.1%, and 1498 responses were received from 17 countries on 6 continents. Of these, 90.4% accepted paediatric cases. The average practitioner was male (61.1%) and 41.4 years old, had 13.6 years in practice, and saw 107 patient visits per week. Regarding educational background, 63.4% had a bachelor’s degree or higher in addition to their chiropractic qualification, and 18.4% had a postgraduate certificate or higher in paediatric chiropractic.

The authors from the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic (AECC), Bournemouth University, United Kingdom, drew the following conclusion: this is the first study about chiropractors who treat children from the United Arab Emirates, Peru, Japan, South Africa, and Spain. Although the response rate was low, the results of this multinational survey suggest that pediatric chiropractic care may be a common component of usual chiropractic practice on a multinational level for these respondents.

A survey with a response rate of 10%?

An investigation published 9 years after it has been conducted?

Who at the AECC is responsible for controlling the quality of the research output?

Or is this paper perhaps an attempt to get the AECC into the ‘Guinness Book of Records’ for outstanding research incompetence?

But let’s just for a minute pretend that this paper is of acceptable quality. If the finding that ~90% of chiropractors tread kids is approximately correct, one has to be very concerned indeed.

I am not aware of any good evidence that chiropractic care is effective for paediatric conditions. On the contrary, it can do quite a bit of direct harm! To this, we sadly also have to add the indirect harm many chiropractors cause, for instance, by advising parents against vaccinating their kids.

This clearly begs the question: is it not time to stop these charlatans?

What do you think?

There is much propaganda for homeopathic vaccinations or homeoprophylaxis (as homeopaths like to call it, in order to give it a veneer of respectability), and on this blog we have discussed it repeatedly. The concept is unproven and dangerous. Yet it is being promoted relentlessly. Currently, I get > 12 million websites when I google ‘homeopathic vaccination’, and there are hundreds of dangerously misleading books and newspaper articles on the subject.

One study that I therefore always wanted to conduct was a trial comparing homeopathic ‘vaccines’ to placebo in terms of immunological response in human volunteers. Somehow, I never managed to get it going. Thus, I was delighted when, a few weeks ago, I received an article for peer-review (I hope I am allowed to disclose this fact here); it was almost exactly the trial I had dreamt of doing one day: the first ever study to test whether there is an antibody response to homeopathic vaccines. Now I am even more delighted to see that it has been published.

Its aim was to compare the antibody response of homeopathic and conventional vaccines and placebo in young adults. The authors hypothesized that there would be no significant difference between homeopathic vaccines and placebo, while there would be a significant increase in antibodies in those received conventional vaccines.

A placebo-controlled, double-blind RCT was conducted where 150 university students who had received childhood vaccinations were assigned to diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, mumps, measles homeopathic vaccine, placebo, or conventional diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (Tdap) and mumps, measles, rubella (MMR) vaccines. The primary outcome was a ≥ two-fold increase in antibodies from baseline following vaccination as measured by ELISA. Participants, investigators, study coordinator, data blood drawers, laboratory technician, and data analyst were blinded.

None of the participants in either the homeopathic vaccine or the placebo group showed a ≥ two-fold response to any of the antigens. In contrast, of those vaccinated with Tdap, 68% (33/48) had a ≥ two-fold response to diphtheria, 83% (40/48) to pertussis toxoid, 88% (42/48) to tetanus, and 35% (17/48) of those vaccinated with MMR had a response to measles or mumps antigens (p < 0.001 for each comparison of conventional vaccine to homeopathic vaccine or to placebo). There was a significant increase in geometric mean titres of antibody from baseline for conventional vaccine antigens (p < 0.001 for each), but none for the response to homeopathic antigens or placebo.

The authors concluded that homeopathic vaccines do not evoke antibody responses and produce a response that is similar to placebo. In contrast, conventional vaccines provide a robust antibody response in the majority of those vaccinated.

I think this is in every respect an excellent trial. It should once and for all get rid of what is arguably the homeopathy-cult’s most dangerous idea, namely that highly diluted homeopathic remedies can protect humans against infectious diseases. On this blog, I once called it ‘a danger for both the public and the individual who might believe in it … promoting HP is unethical, irresponsible and possibly even criminal.’

I said it ‘should’ get rid of this nonsense, but will it?

As homeopaths have, for now 200 years, showed themselves utterly impervious to evidence, I for one am not holding my breath. Yet, thanks to this excellent study, we can, when confronted with the notion of homeopathic vaccinations, henceforth point out that it is not just totally implausible but that, in addition, it has also been experimentally shown to be false.

My thanks to the Canadian investigators!

Oscillococcinum is by now well-known to readers of this blog, I am sure (see for instance here, here and here). It seems an important topic, not least because the infamous duck-placebo is the world’s best-selling homeopathic remedy. Just how popular it is was recently shown in a survey by the formidable ‘Office for Science and Society’ of the McGill University in Canada.

The researchers surveyed the five biggest pharmacy chains in Quebec: Jean-Coutu, Familiprix, Uniprix, Proxim, and Pharmaprix. For each chain, a sample of 30 pharmacies was chosen by a random number generator.

The calls started with the following script: “I would like to know if you carry a certain homeopathic remedy. It’s called Oscillococcinum, it’s a homeopathic remedy against the flu made by Boiron.” If they did not have it, the investigator asked if this was something they normally carried. He spoke to either a floor clerk or a member of the pharmacy staff behind the counter, depending on who knew the answer.

Out of the 150 pharmacies on the island of Montreal that were called for this investigation, 66% of them reported carrying Oscillococcinum (30% did not, while 4% could not be reached, often because the listed pharmacy had closed). Some chains were more likely to sell the product, with Jean-Coutu and Pharmaprix being the most likely (80% of their stores had it) and Proxim being the least likely (50% of their stores carried it).

The McGill researcher stated that the fact that two-thirds of Montreal-based pharmacies will sell us a pseudo-treatment for the flu that targets adults, children and infants alike is hard to square with the Quebec Order of Pharmacists’ mission statement. They describe said mission as “ensuring the protection of the public”, but how is the public protected when pharmacies are selling them placebo pills? The harm is partly financial: 30 doses of these worthless globules retail for CAD 36. It is also in the false sense of security parents will gain and the delay in proper treatment if needed. And, ultimately, it is in the legitimization of a pseudoscience the founding principle of which is that the more you add water to something (like alcohol), the more powerful it becomes.

I can only full-heartedly agree. One might even add a few more things, for instance that there are other dangers as well:

  1. If pharmacists put commercial gain before medical ethics, we might find it hard to trust this profession.
  2. If people take Oscillococcinum and their condition subsequently disappears (because of the self-limiting nature of the disease), they might believe that homeopathy is effective and consequently use it for much more serious conditions – with grave consequences, I hasten to add.
  3. If consumers thus start trusting homeopaths, they might also fall for some of their abominable health advice, e. g. that about not vaccinating their children.
  4. If a sufficiently large percentage of people believe in the magic of shaken water, our rationality will be undermined and we will encounter phenomena like Brexit or fascists as presidents (sorry, I has to get that off my chest).

I would warn every parent who thinks that taking their child to a chiropractor is a good idea. For this, I have three main reasons:

  1. Chiropractic has not been shown to be effective for any paediatric condition.
  2. Chiropractors often advise parents against vaccinating their children.
  3. Chiropractic spinal manipulations can cause harm to kids.

The latter point seems to be confirmed by a recent PhD thesis of which so far only one short report is available. Here are the relevant bits of information from it:

Katie Pohlman has successfully defended her PhD thesis, which focused on the assessment of safety in pediatric manual therapy. As a clinical research scientist at Parker University, Dallas, Texas, she identified a lack of prospective patient safety research within the chiropractic population in general and investigated this deficit in the paediatric population in particular.

Pohlman used a cross-sectional survey to assess the barriers and facilitators for participation in a patient safety reporting system. At the same time, she also conducted a randomized controlled trial comparing the quantity and quality of adverse event reports in children under 14 years receiving chiropractic care.

The RCT recruited 69 chiropractors and found adverse events reported in 8.8% and 0.1% of active and passive surveillance groups respectively. Of the adverse events reported, 56% were considered mild, 26% were moderate and 18% were severe. The frequency of adverse events was more common than previously thought.

This last sentence from the report is somewhat puzzling. Our systematic review of the risks of spinal manipulation showed that data from prospective studies suggest that minor, transient adverse events occur in approximately half of all patients receiving spinal manipulation. The most common serious adverse events are vertebrobasilar accidents, disk herniation, and cauda equina syndrome. Estimates of the incidence of serious complications range from 1 per 2 million manipulations to 1 per 400,000. Given the popularity of spinal manipulation, its safety requires rigorous investigation.

The 8.8% reported by Pohlman are therefore not even one fifth of the average incidence figure reported previously in all age groups.

What could be the explanation for this discrepancy?

There are, of course, several possibilities, including the fact that infants cannot tell the clinician when their pain has increased. However, the most likely one, in my view, lies in the fact that RCTs are wholly inadequate for investigating risks because they typically include far too few patients to generate reliable incidence figures about adverse events. More importantly, clinicians included in such studies are self-selected (and thus particularly responsible/cautious) and are bound to behave most carefully while being part of a clinical trial. Therefore it seems possible – I would speculate even likely – that the 8.8% reported by Pohlman is unrealistically low.

Having said that, I do feel that the research by Kathie Pohlman is a step in the right direction and I do applaud her initiative.

Some homeopaths claim that there is anecdotal support for the use of the homeopathic medicine Arsenicum album in preventing post-vaccination fever. As far as I know, the claim has not been tested in clinical trials. This study was aimed at evaluating the efficacy of this approach in preventing febrile episodes following vaccination.

In the community medicine out-patient of Mahesh Bhattacharyya Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital, West Bengal, a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was conducted on 120 children. All of them presented for the 2nd and 3rd dose of DPT-HepB-Polio vaccination and reported febrile episodes following the 1st dose. They were treated with Arsenicum album 30cH 6 doses or placebo (indistinguishable from verum), thrice daily for two subsequent days. Parents were advised to report any event of febrile attacks within 48h of vaccination.

The groups were comparable at baseline. Children reporting fever after the 2nd dose was 29.8% and 30.4% respectively for the homeopathy group and control group respectively [Relative Risk (RR)=1.008] with no significant difference (P=0.951) between groups. After the 3rd dose, children reporting fever were 31.5% and 28.3% respectively for the homeopathy group and control group respectively (RR=0.956) with no significant difference (P=0.719) between groups.

The authors concluded that empirically selected Arsenicum album 30cH could not produce differentiable effect from placebo in preventing febrile episodes following DPT-HepB-Polio vaccination.

I can hear it now, the chorus of homeopaths:

  • this is part of a conspiracy against homeopathy,
  • the authors of this study display an anti-homeopathy bias,
  • this study did not closely follow the principles of homeopathy,
  • it lacked the input by experience homeopaths,
  • no homeopath worth his money would use Arsenicum album 30cH for this purpose,
  • no homeopath in his right mind would employ 6 doses thrice daily for two subsequent days,
  • etc., etc.

Well guys, I have to disappoint you: the authors of this paper have the following affiliations:

  • Dept. of Pathology and Microbiology, Mahesh Bhattacharyya Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital, Govt. of West Bengal
  • Dept. of Community Medicine, Mahesh Bhattacharyya Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital, Govt. of West Bengal
  • Mahesh Bhattacharyya Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital, Govt. of West Bengal
  • National Institute of Homoeopathy, Ministry of AYUSH, Govt. of India
  • Central Council of Homoeopathy, Vill, Champsara

So, perhaps it’s true: highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos.

 

On this blog, I have ad nauseam discussed the fact that many SCAM-practitioners are advising their patients against vaccinations, e. g.:

The reason why I mention this subject yet again is the alarming news reported in numerous places (for instance in this article) that measles outbreaks are now being reported from most parts of the world.

The number of cases in Europe is at a record high of more than 41,000, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned. Halfway through the year, 2018 is already the worst year on record for measles in Europe in a decade. So far, at least 37 patients have died of the infection in 2018.

“Following the decade’s lowest number of cases in 2016, we are seeing a dramatic increase in infections and extended outbreaks,” Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said in a statement. “Seven countries in the region have seen over 1,000 infections in children and adults this year (France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine).”

In the U.S., where measles were thought to be eradicated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 107 measles cases as of the middle of July this year. “This partial setback demonstrates that every person who is not immune remains vulnerable no matter where they live, and every country must keep pushing to increase coverage and close immunity gaps,” WHO’s Dr. Nedret Emiroglu said.  95 percent of the population must have received at least two doses of measles vaccine to achive herd immunity and prevent outbreaks. Some parts of Europe have reached that target, while others are even below 70 percent.

And why are many parts below the 95% threshold?

Ask your local SCAM-provider, I suggest.

 

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