Variations on a theme of anti-vaccine nonsense

If there’s one thing about anti-vaccine activists that is virtually their sine qua non, it’s an utter lack of understanding of science. Actually, a more accurate description would be that it’s a highly selective understanding of science. Nowhere do I find this to be the case as much as when I see anti-vaccine loons pulling what I like to call the “toxins gambit,” or, as I’ve put it before, “Why are we injecting TOXINS into our babies?” It’s a gambit that anti-vaccine activists seemingly never tire of, and it comes in a wide variety of forms, but they all have one of two things in common. Either a chemical that is not toxic is represented as being toxic, or a chemical that is not toxic at the dosage found in vaccines is hyped as a horrible toxin, using warnings that apply only to much, much higher exposures than found in any vaccine, as Dr. Jay Gordon once so boneheadedly did with formaldehyde, the added silliness being that formadehyde is produced in the body during normal metabolism.

The reason I bring this up is because it occurred to me that the recent bit of nonsense promulgated by the anti-vaccine group SANE Vax posted a series of fear mongering press releases claiming that they had detected–gasp!–HPV DNA in the HPV vaccine Gardasil is in fact a variant of the “toxins” gambit. Let’s put it this way. SANE Vax made a huge deal over how Merck states on the package insert for Gardasil that there is no HPV DNA in the vaccine. What that means in science is that Merck couldn’t detect HPV DNA in Gardasil using standard tests in existence at the time. It’s highly questionable that SANE Vax’s pathologist, Dr. Sin Hang Lee has actually detected what he’s claimed to detect, but let’s assume for the moment that he has. Let’s for the moment assume that he somehow developed a more sensitive nested PCR test to detect HPV DNA. Even if that were the case, it wouldn’t make Merck and the FDA liars for saying that there is no HPV DNA in Gardasil, because to the best of their knowledge using the best tests available at the time there wasn’t any. Moreover, even if Dr. Lee actually did detect what he claims to have detected, the amounts of HPV DNA are so small as to be meaningless. Certainly, they couldn’t cause all the catastrophic side effects. In other words, SANE Vax has simply fallen for another version of the “toxins gambit.”

Small wonder, then, that SANE Vax falls for an even more ridiculous version of the “toxins gambit” in its latest nonsense entitled WWII Military Handbook Reveals Pesticide Chemicals Used In Infant Vaccines. It’s the same article that’s shown up on other anti-vaccine websites. Get a load of the nonsense that VaccineTruth and SANE Vax are laying down:

A United States military handbook published in 1946 shows chemical compounds used in formulating the pesticide DDT are currently injected into babies.

The handbook entitled, “DDT and Other Insecticides and Repellents”, reveals Triton X-100, Tween 20, and Tween 80 were used as major components of spraying operations of DDT. Their stated purpose was to prevent separation of ingredients and increase absorption of DDT.

As I’ve pointed out before, this is just plain silly. In fact, it’s so silly, that it took all my limited self-control not to start laughing hysterically when I read this article, which is now circulating around the anti-vaccine underground. Truly, its author Jeffry John Aufderheide is about as scientifically ignorant as they come. I’ve used all of these compounds before. They’re commonly used in molecular biology for various assays. Usually, it’s used to permeabilize cells and make cell extracts in order to isolate protein, DNA, RNA, or other cell constituents. They’re used in the preparation of vaccines for the same purpose, and, as is the case for many of the assays I used to do only very tiny trace amounts are left over afterward. Tiny amounts, trivial amounts, safe amounts. Basically, Triton X-100, Tween 20, and Tween 80 are nothing more than detergents, and they are present in vaccines in trace amounts left over after the vaccine manufacturing process.

After helpfully listing the various vaccines that contain Triton X-100, Tween 20, or Tween 80, Aufderheide is not content to stop digging deeper into scientific ignorance:

What I discovered was shocking.

Tween 80 and Triton X-100 can:

  • Be used in pharmaceuticals to deliver nano-particles to the brain because they cross or disrupt the Blood Brain Barrier – which protects the brain.
  • Suppress the immune system
  • Promote epileptic seizures in rats
  • Accelerate the development of female organs in rats
  • Trigger cell death or ‘suicide’ called apoptosis
  • Cause cancer in rats at the injection site
  • Damage and promote intestinal damage in rats
  • Cause bleeding disorders, kidney failure, liver failure, and death in infants who received a vitamin E product combined with Tween 80
  • Possibly promote viral or bacterial infections
  • Break down Red Blood Cells
  • Cause damage to the heart when injected into rats

Read about them here:

Naturally, I went to the VaccineTruth post linked to in the passage above. It was even funnier than the original link labeling Triton X-100 and the two Tweens as being “pesticide chemicals.” For oen thing, Aufderheide makes a big deal about how he’s found all his information about these compounds from the National Institutes of Health websites. What he means is PubMed, and it’s also very clear that he doesn’t understand what he’s found on PubMed. For example, this article about using polysorbate 80 in coating nanoparticles to target them to the brain. Never mind that the amount of polysorbate 80 (which is basically the same thing as Tween 80) needed to accomplish this is orders of magnitude more than what could conceivably be in vaccines. In the face of such ignorance, the concept of dose-response curves has a hard time standing.

Not surprisingly, Aufderheide also cites a study suggesting that Tween 80 is harmful to the female reproductive organs in rats. As I pointed out before when another clueless wonder tried this ploy, the amount of polysorbate 80 used in this study was hundreds of times the amount that can be found in vaccines.

The stupid, it burns. Or rather, should I say: The stupid, it foams.

Not that any of this stops Aufderheide from continuing deeper into the foaming stupid:

To minimize the above information, you may hear arguments about the chemicals being safe because they are in hand soaps, ice cream, and in our lungs (natural surfactant).

For the record, I’ve never seen a mother feeding or injecting a newborn with soap or ice cream. My word of advice to mothers is follow your intuition and ask a lot of questions.

And adding:

In a nutshell, the same companies who formulated and patented DDT, are putting the same industrial chemicals in childhood vaccines. To add insult to injury, their public relations campaigns brainwash doctors and the scientific community into believing that injecting babies, even in small amounts with these chemicals, is somehow okay. Even more bizarre are claims chemicals such as Triton X-100 or Tween 80 are involved in promoting health!

Not exactly. It’s the vaccines that promote health. The Triton and Tween are in essence neutral. Of course, the portrayal of these innocuous compounds by someone like Aufderheide is anything but neutral or even evidence-based. Oh, sure, he’ll claim it’s evidnece-based because he can quote actual PubMed references, but it’s how Aufderheide uses those references that reveals that he does not understand them.

I’d propose to Aufderheide that he ought to think about an example that illustrates exactly what he is doing. Consider the dreaded dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO). For example, it’s a major component of acid rain, and in gaseous form can cause severe burns. It’s also a major component of most strong acids, such as hydrochloric acid and or sulfuric acid. It’s also a major component of many bases, such as sodium hydroxide, not to mention a byproduct of internal combustion engins. It’s also an industrial solvent and coolant, a fire retardant, and–horror of horrors!–it’s used in the manufacture of chemical weapons, the manufacture of recombinant DNA, and, yes, in the manufacture of pesticides, including DDT. The facts are clear!

And DHMO is in vaccines! In fact, it’s the major component of most vaccines!

If you’re afraid of Triton X-100, Tween 20, or Tween 80 in vaccines, you should be even mor afraid of the DHMO in vaccines.