TIME vaccines

Jim Carrey, Please Shut Up About Vaccines

Actor Jim Carrey arrives at LACMA's 50th Anniversary Gala at LACMA on April 18, 2015 in Los Angeles.
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin—Getty Images Actor Jim Carrey arrives at LACMA's 50th Anniversary Gala at LACMA on April 18, 2015 in Los Angeles.

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The erstwhile Ace Ventura sounds off about vaccines. Spoiler alert: he's wrong

Say this for the anti-vax clown car: it never seems to run out of new punchinellos to climb inside. If it’s not scientific fabulist Andrew Wakefield, he of the fraudulent study that got the whole vaccine-autism myth started, it’s Jenny McCarthy, she of the supposedly vaccine-injured son whose autism was cured in part by—yes!—a gluten-free diet because, um, gluten is bad, very bad.

After McCarthy, there was Saturday Night Live alum Rob Schneider—because when you’re looking for guidance on the wisdom of vaccines, who are you going to trust: the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, or the man who gave us Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo? I mean, hello, the movie was huge.

Now, to this group of board-certified jesters add Jim Carrey—the ex-Mr. Jenny McCarthy—who rose on July 1 in all his orange-wigged, floppy-shoed, seltzer-down-the-pants fury to condemn California Governor Jerry Brown for the high crime of common sense, after Brown signed a law that requires virtually all kids in the state to be fully vaccinated as a pre-condition for attending public school. Carrey took—no surprise—to Twitter to air his peer-reviewed views.

“California Gov says yes to poisoning more children with mercury and aluminum in manditory [sic] vaccines. This corporate fascist must be stopped,” said the erstwhile Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. That was followed by:

“They say mercury in fish is dangerous but forcing all of our children to be injected with mercury in thimerosol [sic] is no risk. Make sense?” Which was followed by:

“I am not anti-vaccine. I am anti-thimerosal, anti-mercury. They have taken some of the mercury laden thimerosal out of vaccines. NOT ALL!”

And there was more too, but really, it doesn’t matter. Never mind that Carrey does not understand the difference between ethylmercury and methylmercury or the fact that there is virtually no mercury of any kind left in vaccines. Never mind that he doesn’t seem to know that to the extent that aluminum is in vaccines at all, it is there only as an adjuvant—or immune system stimulant—and is well-handled by the body, especially in the trace amounts that it’s found in vaccines. And never mind too that if you’re going for the ad hominem attack—a staple of anti-vaxxers—calling a man like Jerry Brown, better known as Governor Moonbeam, a “fascist” is a bit wide of the argumentative mark.

The anti-vax crowd has never been about reasoned argument or a cool-headed look at clinical science. They’ve been all about rage, all about echo-chamber misinformation. For every sensible action to boost vaccination rates, they have long been there, like a sort of perverse bit of Newtonian physics, with an equal and risible reaction.

Maybe that’s the reason they roll out pratfall comics like Schneider and Carrey to plead their case—a bit of misdirection to hide the tragicomedy of their message behind the larger comedy of the messenger. Or maybe they’re the best they’ve got.

That matters. A movement that begins with a study conducted by a doctor so thoroughly discredited that he’s not even allowed to practice medicine in his native United Kingdom anymore (Wakefield) and takes flight thanks to the prattlings of a Playboy model and talk show guest (McCarthy) ought not to have a chance against the informed scientific opinion of virtually every medical group on Earth. That it does says something about the hucksters’ ability to sell their nonsense and the human tendency to pay more attention to famous but wrong-headed people than to unglamorous but smart ones.

But that’s finally changing. The anti-vax act has at last gotten old, and it’s gotten tired and the cost—sick children, lost school days, outbreaks of diseases like measles, mumps and whooping cough—has gotten too high.

Like all fringe groups eventually do, the anti-vaxxers are now entering their rump-faction stage, dwindling to an angry, dense, immune-to-reason core. Soon enough, they’ll be gone. The likes of Carrey—today’s foghorn, tomorrow’s footnote—will vanish with them. And America’s children—not for nothing—will be better for it.

Read next: California Governor Jerry Brown Signs Mandatory Vaccine Law

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME public health

California Governor Jerry Brown Signs Mandatory Vaccine Law

Law abolishes exemptions for personal beliefs

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a mandatory school vaccination bill into law Tuesday, abolishing the “personal belief” exemption that many parents use as a loophole to avoid vaccinating their children.

Now, under California law, which is among the strictest in the country, children would not be able to enroll in public school unless they have been vaccinated against diseases like measles and whooping cough. The law includes an exemption for children who have a medical reason to remain unvaccinated (like an immune system disorder) and can prove it with a doctor’s note. Parents who decline to vaccinate their children for personal or religious reasons will have to home-school them or send them to a public independent study program off school grounds.

Students who are unvaccinated because of “personal belief” who are already in public elementary school can stay until they’re in 7th grade, and then the parents will either have to vaccinate them or home-school them. Daycare students can stay until kindergarten, when they have to be either vaccinated or home-schooled. In the fall of 2014, almost 3% of California kindergartners were unvaccinated because of personal belief. Preschools in the most affluent areas are also the least likely to vaccinate, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The bill was proposed after a measles outbreak at Disneyland infected more 150 people, and many needed to be hospitalized. Supporters of the law argue that it is based on medical consensus that vaccinations improve public health. Opponents—who have been picketing outside the California legislature—argue that it’s an attack on personal freedom.

TIME vaccines

Why Jerry Brown Was Right to Sign the California Vaccine Bill

Bad choice: Anti-vaxxers protesting the California vaccine bill
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Bad choice: Anti-vaxxers protesting the California vaccine bill

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The governor had a chance to protect thousands of children—and he did

Updated: June 30, 2015, 2:32 PM EDT

California does not often make common cause with Mississippi and West Virginia. America’s blue-red divide doesn’t come any wider than it does between the liberal laboratory of the Pacific West and the conservative cornerstones of the old south. But with a single signature on a single bill, California Gov. Jerry Brown ensured that the largest state in the nation joined the two far smaller ones in what ought to be a simple, primal mission: keeping children healthy.

The law, which passed the California legislature with bipartisan majorities, does a straightforward job—removing the religious and personal belief exemptions that allowed parents to refuse to vaccinate their children. The legislation leaves standing the medical exemption—the waiver families receive when a child has a manifest medical condition like a compromised immune system that would make vaccines dangerous. Under the new rules, families without the medical waiver face a choice: get your kids the shots or prepare to home-school them, which ensures they get an education but protects other children from whatever pathogens they may be carrying.

Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states in the country that currently have such no-nonsense rules and they’ve got the stellar vaccination rates to prove it: fully 99.9% of the states’ kids are up to date on all their shots. California was right to follow the example of those southern-fried smarts. Only 90.4% of the Golden State’s kindergarteners had their full complement of vaccinations in the 2014-2015 school year. The worst offenders are the parents in the too-rich, too-famous, too-smart by half provinces of Silicon Valley, where vaccination rates in some day care centers struggle to crack the 50% mark.

That matters—a lot. When vaccine coverage falls below 95%, communities begin to lose what’s known as herd immunity, the protection a fully inoculated population provides to the relative handful of its members who can’t be vaccinated. California has suffered the consequences of that, with outbreaks of whooping cough and mumps across the state. Earlier this year, more than 100 cases of measles in California and Mexico were traced to a single unvaccinated visitor to Disneyland. That outbreak, at one of the state’s most iconic destinations, at last got Sacramento’s attention, and the new law, though hotly debated, passed.

Brown was vague at first about whether he would sign the bill and that left a lot of health policy experts worried. He had signed an earlier bill that preserved the personal belief exemption but at least made it harder for families to claim one. No longer could parents simply check a box on a form—an awfully easy thing to do without giving the matter much thought. Under the previous law, they would have to visit a health care provider who would sign a statement confirming that the parents had been informed of the benefits (too many to enumerate) and the risks (vanishingly small) of vaccination. Once they’re in the doctor’s office, plenty of parents come around. But Brown, a one-time Jesuit seminarian who has made no secret of his spiritual side over the years, carved out an exception in that law for religious beliefs.

He was right not to make the same mistake this time. There was a time when religious exemptions were no cause for worry. The share of Americans whose faith forbids vaccinations is exceedingly small, and as long as the herd remained intact, those kids would remain safe. But that was before the nonsense factory of the anti-vaccine community went into operation, churning out all manner of misinformation about autism and brain damage and big pharma conspiring with big government to inject unsuspecting children with toxins. The result: Vaccine rates have plummeted nationwide, and children have paid the price.

The tension between religious liberty and civic responsibility is hardly a new issue in the American system. If your religion does no harm to anyone else—least of all kids—you ought to be free to practice it in peace. But if that faith requires prayer to treat pediatric cancer or laying on of hands as a cure for severe pneumonia, the state ought to be able to intervene and provide proper care if you won’t and prosecute you if your child is injured or killed. In some states that’s indeed possible but in others it’s not, and a complex patchwork governs the level of care each state will or won’t mandate.

Mandatory testing for lead levels in blood? OK in most places, but not if you live in Delaware, Maine, Kansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island, where religious exemptions are available. Mandatory eyedrops to help prevent blindness in newborns? An important preventive for kids born to mothers with certain kinds of STDs—but they may be out of luck if they’re born in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, or Pennsylvania.

The kids, it’s worth noting, did not choose to be born in states with weak protections. And they don’t choose either to be born to parents who look at vaccines and see in them something sinister or dangerous or strangely unholy.

Anti-vax parents came into a world of medically rational adults who had seen the wages of polio or diphtheria or smallpox or whooping cough and were grateful for a preventive that could eliminate those horrors. Jerry Brown himself came into that world too. Contemporary children deserve the same kind of wisdom and the same kind of care the grown-ups around them enjoyed. And California children deserve a governor who will see to it that that they get it.

Today Brown lived up to that responsibility.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Infectious Disease

California Lawmakers Pass Strict School Vaccine Bill

The bill ends vaccine exemptions for personal beliefs

The California senate has passed a bill that requires most children in public schools to get vaccinations and ends exemptions from vaccinations for personal beliefs.

The bill only allows for kids with serious health problems to not get vaccinated.

The bill is now heading to California Governor Jerry Brown, who has not said whether he will sign the bill. It would be one of the strictest vaccination laws in the country.

California recently experienced an outbreak of measles that was tied to a Disneyland amusement park. Many of the people infected were not vaccinated.

TIME Infectious Disease

California Lawmakers to Vote on Tougher Vaccine Measures

The bill would end exemptions from vaccinations for personal beliefs

California lawmakers are expected to vote Monday on a measure that would require most children in public schools to get vaccinations.

The bill, which is headed for a final vote in the California state Senate, would end exemptions from vaccinations for personal belief, and would excuse only children with serious health issues from vaccines, reports the Associated Press. Other unvaccinated children would need to be homeschooled.

An outbreak of measles at Disneyland in December infected over 100 people in the U.S. and Mexico, largely due to pockets of unvaccinated Californians.

Gov. Jerry Brown has not said whether he would sign the bill. If it becomes law, California, Mississippi and West Virginia would be the only states with such strict vaccination requirements.

[AP]

TIME People

Doctor Who Opposed Vaccines Found Dead in Apparent Suicide

He was known for publishing controversial research suggesting a link between vaccines and autism

Dr. Jeff Bradstreet, an anti-vaccine physician, has been found dead in what police believe is a suicide.

Bradstreet died of what authorities say appears to be a self-inflicted gun shot to the chest, the Associated Press reports. His body was found by a fisherman on June 19 in Rocky Broad River in Chimney Rock, N.C. Authorities also found a handgun in the water.

Bradstreet, who is from Georgia, published controversial research suggesting a link between vaccines and autism. The claim has been widely disproved in the medical community. His family is raising money to investigate his death.

Officials are still investigating as well.

[AP]

TIME health

5 Things You May Not Know About Jonas Salk

Salk
Archive Photos/Getty Images Jonas Salk (1914 - 1995) holding up two decanters containing the anti-polio vaccine that he developed.

A biographer discovers her subject is far from the figure beloved by the public or ridiculed by his scientific peers

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

When on April 12, 1955, the public learned that Jonas Salk’s vaccine could prevent polio, celebration erupted worldwide, and Salk became an international hero overnight. As I began my research for his biography, attempting to understand the man behind the image, I was surprised by what I found.

1. This international idol, whose smile shone from newspapers and magazines, did not live “happily every after.” Salk’s life changed forever when the polio vaccine’s success was announced on April 12, 1955. While the public rushed to honor him, rebuke from the scientific community cast a shadow over his achievement. Why the aspersions? This young researcher, not yet a member of the scientific brotherhood, had made and initially tested the polio vaccine in secret while challenging one of their firmly held principles—that only a vaccine made of live virus could impart lifelong immunity. They accused Salk of failing to give proper credit to other researchers. Because he reached out to the public in ways scientists had never done, many accused him of crossing the line of academic decorum by soliciting media attention. And with the vaccine’s success came a wave of celebrity accorded few scientists in the history of medicine. Basil O’Connor, director of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis remarked that the scientific community acted as if Salk had committed a felony.

2. The burden of being a world icon hung like an albatross around Salk’s neck. Within a month following the news that polio could be prevented, he (or the University of Pittsburgh on his behalf) received ten thousand letters, telegrams, and phone calls. Salk couldn’t enter a restaurant or hotel without causing a stir like a movie star; people wanted to shake his hand, embrace him, thank him. For years his named appeared on lists of the world’s most revered people along with Churchill and Gandhi. At the same time, he experienced the dark side of fame; there were con artists, stalkers, and the emotional toll on his family was enormous. Suffering under fame’s heavy load, Salk confessed to his longtime secretary he wished this had never happened to him.

3. Longing for refuge, Salk dreamed of creating a utopian institute where scientists and humanists would work side by side, imbuing the sciences with the conscience of man. With funds from the National Foundation/March of Dimes, Salk built a Louis Kahn architectural masterpiece in La Jolla, California—the Salk Institute, and attracted a cadre of distinguished scholars. But he faced enormous difficulties: the maverick architect who spent more time dreaming than drawing; Salk’s own inept administrative skills, which left the Institute teetering on the edge of bankruptcy; a new president who said he could raise more money with Salk dead than alive; and in the end, dismissal by those for whom he had built this Shangri-La. While a scientific success, the Salk Institute proved to be a personal failure—Salk’s most painful legacy.

4. In the meantime, Salk’s polio vaccine remained controversial. Five years following its release, his killed-virus vaccine had reduced the incidence of paralytic polio in the US by ninety percent. Even so, most senior virologists, led by Albert Sabin, maintained that only a live-virus vaccine could eradicate polio by inducing a low-grade, almost imperceptible infection. The US Public Health Service soon replaced Salk’s killed-virus vaccine, given by injection, with Albert Sabin’s oral vaccine, made of live, weakened poliovirus, delivered in a sugar cube, citing cost and convenience. Salk warned that live virus, although weakened, could revert to a virulent form and cause polio. Eventually most cases of paralyzing polio in the US could be traced to Sabin’s vaccine, yet it had become entrenched. Salk set out to reverse what he called a risky, politically-driven decision—a sole warrior in a fight that lasted the rest of his life. In 1999, the US government recalled the Sabin vaccine, replacing it with a newer version of Salk’s vaccine. By then, Salk was dead.

5. Salk’s historical role in preventing polio overshadowed his part in co-developing the first influenza vaccine, his efforts to control multiple sclerosis, and his pioneering work on AIDS. Just out of medical training, Salk and senior virologist Thomas Francis, Jr. developed the first vaccine that could prevent influenza for which Salk got little credit. They soon discovered the influenza virus had several strains that could mutate, making prospects for a single vaccine, like smallpox, remote. Salk devised a way to put several strains in one vaccine using mineral oil. In his goal to make a universal vaccine, he was impeded by the political maneuverings of senior scientists. With regard to multiple sclerosis, Salk tried to halt its progressive debility by concocting a therapeutic agent that manipulated the immune system. He hit a blind alley, and short of research funds, abandoned this endeavor.

In his seventies, Salk entered the AIDS arena. He played a pivotal role by mediating a fight over who discovered the AIDS virus, averting an international incident. Anxious to halt this devastating disease, he made a therapeutic vaccine to delay the time between infection with HIV and development of full-blown AIDS. Some called his work an old man’s desperate attempt to recover his former glory; others thought his ideas ingenious. Although early clinical trials looked promising, Salk had reached an impasse with the FDA at the time of his death.

In seeking the man behind the image, I found Jonas Salk to be far more complex than the public image of him—America’s beloved hero—and far more sensitive and caring than the distorted image suggested by some scientists—a glory-seeking dilettante. Even-tempered and composed, Salk seemed to generate controversy no matter what he set out to do. That wasn’t his intent, but he defied conventional wisdom—“marched to a different drummer,” he said. Although he personified equanimity, his personal notes reveal a man who felt the wounds inflicted by others, a man whose passion to solve the problems of the world helped him bear the burdens generated by his fame.

Charlotte D. Jacobs, M.D. is the Ben and A. Jess Shenson Professor of Medicine (Emerita) at Stanford University. She has served as Senior Associate Dean and as Director of the Clinical Cancer Center, and is the author of “Henry Kaplan and the Story of Hodgkin’s Disease.” Her latest book, “Jonas Salk: A Life,” was released in May 2015 by Oxford University Press.

TIME A Year In Space

How Vaccines in Space Can Help on Earth

Looking good: A healthy and well-vaccinated Scott Kelly on March 23, 2015, six days before launch
Bill Ingalls—NASA Looking good: A healthy and well-vaccinated Scott Kelly on March 23, 2015, six days before launch

A unique experiment is happening aboard the International Space Station

You’d think it would be hard to get sick in space. There is no part of your body the medics wouldn’t have turned inside out looking for problems; you’d be placed in medical quarantine for days before launch; and once you did take off, well, goodbye Earth, with all its colds and flus and walking pneumonias. The bugs are down there and you’re up here.

But that’s not the way things work. Bacteria and viruses adore the environment of a spacecraft: it’s warm, it’s sealed, it’s climate-controlled, and best of all it’s full of people who have nowhere to go and no way to avoid sharing any stray germs they might have brought with them.

That’s especially true aboard the International Space Station (ISS), where crews rotate in and out and can stay for many months at a time, and where residents’ immune systems—flummoxed by long-term exposure to zero-g—are unable to function as they should. Now, NASA is taking an important step toward solving these problems, with an imaginative study of year-in-space marathoner Scott Kelly and his twin brother Mark, a retired astronaut. The cutting-edge, space-age tool that will be central to the work? The ordinary flu vaccine.

The Kelly brothers’ immune systems had already been studied in the run-up to Scott’s launch last March, and both men were certified fit. But they should be slowly diverging, and it is Scott who will be having problems. In space, some of the immune system’s billions of cells begin to change in shape and function, especially the critical T-cells — and none of it is for the better.

“There is suppression of T-cell activation pathways,” says Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, an immune system specialist and one of the year-in-space mission’s medical investigators. “They are the generals that coordinate the entire immune response.”

Making things worse, while the ISS is hardly germ-free, it’s a lot more antiseptic than Earth is, and that means the body can get forgetful, unlearning some of the immunities it’s acquired over the years. “The immune system needs to be challenged,” says Mignot. If it isn’t, it grows slack.

The experiment that will help study all of this began a few months before Scott even left Earth, when both brothers received a common trivalent flu vaccine—one that is formulated to protect against three strains of the virus. Blood was drawn from both men seven days later, which is typically the point at which the immune response peaks and the greatest number of cells that have been mustered to respond to the vaccine are present.

This coming November, as flu season is getting underway on Earth, both brothers will be vaccinated again—Scott in space and Mark on the ground—and more blood will be drawn. Scott’s sample will be frozen until it can be returned to Earth aboard one of the unmanned, round-trip cargo runs flown by the SpaceX Dragon. There will be a third and final round of vaccines and blood draws a year from November.

In all of the samples, Mignot will be scrutinizing the brothers’ twin immune responses in ways that haven’t been possible before. “We’ll be using a new technique that recognizes just pieces of the virus,” he says. “It’s quite sophisticated; we’ll have ideas both of the strength and qualitative nature of the immune response.”

Mignot and the other NASA researchers will be looking not just at how Scott’s immune system is changed by his time in space, but how well it recovers once he’s back on Earth. The results will have implications that go beyond the ISS.

Bad as an illness would be aboard the station, the astronauts are always only hours away from climbing aboard their attached Soyuz spacecraft and coming home. During a long-term mission to Mars—when an emergency return would take at least eight months—even a comparatively minor illness could present a far more serious problem. What’s more, as with most ISS biomedical studies, any basic knowledge about how the body works can have applications not just for astronauts, but for the seven billion other humans who have no plans to leave the Earth.

The Kelly brothers are hardly the only people who will be getting their flu shots this year and next. But over time, if things go well, they could prove to be the most important.

TIME vaccines

Parents Shouldn’t Be Able to Refuse Kids’ Vaccines for Personal or Religious Reasons, Group Says

It also adopted a policy saying there's no medically valid reason for a military ban on transgender service members

(CHICAGO) — The American Medical Association has adopted policies against nonmedical vaccine refusals and for transgender people in the military.

The nation’s largest doctors’ group says parents should not be able to refuse to have their kids vaccinated for personal or religious reasons. That’s because of the health risks unvaccinated kids pose to others.

At its annual policymaking meeting in Chicago on Monday, the AMA said it would support efforts to end those exemptions in state immunization mandates.

The AMA also adopted a policy saying there’s no medically valid reason for the military’s ban on transgender service members. And it agreed to organize efforts to create guidelines for assessing whether older physicians remain competent to safely treat patients.

The group has considerable lobbying clout and its positions tend to influence policymakers.

TIME Cancer

How a Common Childhood Vaccine Helps Ward Off Cancer

It reduces the risk of childhood leukemia by 20%

Scientists now understand why a common childhood vaccine reduces the risk of leukemia.

Researchers previously knew that the vaccine against Haemophilus influenza type B, or HiB, reduces the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. But now a new study published in Nature Immunology explains why this is the case.

Dr. Markus Müschen and his team on the study used a mouse model and found that recurring HiB infections, which can happen easily in children who have not been vaccinated, can cause certain enzymes to activate and push common precancerous blood cells into cancer. So, vaccines against HiB infections also protect children from this path to leukemia.

Müschen told the New York Times that the HiB vaccine, which is routinely given to children, has led to a 20% reduction in the risk for leukemia.

 

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