New project: The Ethics of Vaccines

Since I’ve found myself drawn into blogging about vaccines and the antivaccination movement so much, I was interested to learn of a new project dedicated to discussing the ethical issues involved with vaccination being launched at the University of Pennsylvania:

The Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine announced the beginning of an 18 month project to examine the field of vaccine development and use. Plans call for providing an ethical framework to help guide researchers, pharmaceutical companies, public-health agencies, health-care providers, and citizens regarding vaccines and their safe, effective, and ethical use.

The website itself, which appears to be more of a blog, can be found here, with an introduction:

…our hope is to create an information clearinghouse (of sorts) on all things vaccine-related, compiling in one place important news, perspectives, and features that address the state of vaccination both in the United States and worldwide. We’ll offer our perspectives sparingly, only to provide context or balance to the stories we cite.

There’s some interesting stuff there already. For example, they’ve already weighed in on the thimerosal/autism controversy, specifically, RFK Jr.’s recent resurrection of the issue:

What all could probably agree on is that the CDC decision to remove thimerosal in 2000 sent a mixed signal, since the evidence then (and now) cited by the medical community continues to show zero evidence of a link to autism. ‘If the evidence is so clear, why call for its removal?’ is a reasonable question to ask. What seemingly was an attempt to end the controversy by removing a non-essential ingredient has actually had the reverse effect, increasing skepticism and thoughts of conspiracy among those inclined to think in such a way.

Indeed. The CDC was damned if it did and damned if it didn’t. Because the hysteria was reaching levels that were frightening parents, threatening a lowering of the vaccination rate, it was recommended that thimerosal be removed from vaccines, even though there wasn’t then and isn’t now any scientific evidence linking thimerosal to autism. After all, it is in most cases a nonessential ingredient, even though it is very useful for preventing contamination of multi-dose vials. Unfortunately, that very recommendation fed the conspiracy mongers, who saw it as a validation of their views that thimerosal was dangerous and caused autism and evidence that there was a coverup. However, if the CDC hadn’t made that recommendation, it risked jeopardizing the nation’s childhood immunization programs.

There’s also another interesting post there that puts the decision by the ACIP to recommend flu vaccinations to children between six months and five years, bringing to light an aspect of this decision that I hadn’t been aware of by linking to a Washington Post story about how the death of a four-year-old girl from the flu influenced vaccine policy. It puts a human face on the decision that RFK Jr. so decries:

Very sad, but a must-read. Reading it side-by-side with RFK Jr.’s piece, it’s hard to believe both authors are discussing the same decision by the same group about the same vaccine. (Without wading too far into the murky depths of the thimerosal debate, it’s worth noting that central to earlier arguments about its safety were concerns about the total amount of thimerosal administered from all vaccines together. Now that flu vaccine is the only pediatric product containing it, the position seems to be that any thimerosal is unacceptable.)

One can assume that Jessica’s story alone did not persuade ACIP to change the flu vaccine recommendation, but, amid debates and controversies, it reminds all of us of the real-life consequences of infectious diseases and immunization policy.

There are also some interesting articles on cancer vaccines and impediments to the development of a bird flu vaccine.

According to Jason Schwartz, the Editor of the project:

…a primary goal of ours is to stand apart from the rhetoric and shouting that too often permeate discussions of vaccines, particularly online. We intend to give time to various perspectives (as we already have with RFK Jr and the Geiers), but ultimately to let the facts and the science speak for themselves. We’ll provide context, balance, and links that clarify, complement, and better inform coverage of vaccines elsewhere. Finally, given the focus of our project, we care a great deal about the ethical questions arising from the news — we’ll always raise the issues we see to be relevant and often offer our take as to the solution(s).

In other words, this site should serve as a less vociferous perspective on the issue than Orac usually purveys. I was initially a little reluctant to post a plug, not because I don’t think it’s a very promising blog, but rather because, due to my previous posts on such issues, my mention of it runs the risk of siccing some of the loonier antivaxers on Jason’s site. I hate to do that to such a young site, but they’d find him sooner or later anyway. Besides, discovering and plugging promising new blogs is one of the great pleasures I derive from blogging, particularly now that I’ve achieved a modicum of popularity, such that my mention actually means something. Not nearly as much as PZ, Daily Kos, or Instapundit, of course, but something.

I’ll be adding this one to my blogroll when I revamp it this weekend.