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Tetyana Obukhanych swings at the measles immune amnesia studies—and whiffs!

Tetyana Obukhanych has a PhD in immunology but has somehow become antivaccine. This week, she tried to refute two recent studies on immune amnesia induced by measles virus infection. Let’s just say that it did not go well.

The other day, I wrote about a couple of fascinating new papers that provide yet more evidence that measles is not a “benign childhood disease.” Basically, the papers presented yet more confirmation that the measles virus can attack the immune system, resulting in “immune amnesia,” in which the immune system “forgets” how to make antibodies against antigens it’s previously encountered before. If you want the details, feel free to go back to my previous post on immune amnesia, which discusses links back to the original studies, but a good way of looking at it is this: The measles virus kills off memory cells that lurk in the background after an infection, waiting for an encounter with the same antigen to reactivate and stimulating antibody production against the antigen again. Another way to look at it is that the immune system is reset back to infancy and has to relearn immunity through re-exposure to many of the antigens and diseases that it had already encountered. Together, the two studies for the first time suggested the mechanism behind longlasting immunosuppression observed after measles infection previously described. Naturally, antivaxers, seeing yet more evidence demolishing one of their core beliefs, in this case that the measles is a “harmless childhood illness,” didn’t take long to counterattack. Enter Tetyana Obukhanych.

Who is Tetyana Obkhanych?

Interestingly, I’ve hardly mentioned Obukhanych before, which in retrospect strikes me as odd, because she has a PhD in immunology from the Rockefeller University and completed postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard and Stanford, having published in high profile journals such as Nature, Cell, and the Journal of Experimental Medicine. Even with an apparently respectable background in immunology, Obukhanych has somehow managed to become an antivaccine activist. (It is very odd.) One place I’ve encountered her is in writing about the antivaccine group, Physicians for Informed Consent, where she is listed as a founding director/board member since 2015, her name listed alongside many antivaxers that I’ve encountered before, such as Christopher Shaw, Paul Thomas, Gary Goldman, Jane Orient, Dr. Bob Sears, and several others. On the group’s website, Obukhanych is quoted thusly:

All throughout my PhD training I was a faithful believer in vaccination. I believed for almost two decades that the reason I had contracted measles and whooping cough during my teenage years was because I wasn’t vaccinated against these diseases. Then, when I had to check my childhood vaccination records, I discovered that I was in fact fully vaccinated for both measles and whooping cough, and the resulting contradiction necessitated me to reexamine all my previous beliefs about the immunologic theory behind vaccination.

There’s only one reaction to this sort of statement:

Godzilla facepalm

Vaccines have a failure rate? Who knew? Damn those Illuminati lizard people pharma puppet masters for not telling us that the measles vaccine has a 5% failure rate! (That’s assuming she even ever got the full series of each vaccine, which we have no idea if she did.) If the 5% failure rate of the MMR vaccine and the fact that there is waning immunity due to the pertussis vaccine that has prompted recommendations for a booster dose during the teen years were enough to make Obukhanych “reexamine all her previous beliefs about the immunologic theory behind vaccination,” it’s a wonder she got through graduate school! Her acceptance of the well-established science in immunology had clearly been paper-thin before that.

Looking at Obukhanych’s publication record on PubMed, I’m both impressed and underwhelmed. Yes, she is listed as an author on papers published in Cell and Nature, two of the highest impact journals there are, but she is only first author on one out of the eight publications, a paper from 2006 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine with Michael C. Nussenzweig, her PhD thesis advisor at Rockefeller University. As for her ever having done a postdoc at Harvard, I can’t find evidence of it. Certainly it resulted in no publications, as there’s a six year gap (2006-2012) between her last publication at Rockefeller and her first publication at Stanford in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. (Ironically it was a paper reporting a distinct plasma profile of polar neutral amino acids, leucine, and glutamate in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.) This six year gap suggests to me that, if she was indeed ever a postdoc at Harvard, her time there was incredibly unproductive and it took her a couple of more years after arriving at Stanford to start to publish again. Worse, though, in each of the four papers from Stanford, Obukhanych’s name is buried in the middle of the list of authors, which means that she contributed, but that she was not a primary contributor to the work.

Both Skeptical Raptor and Vaxopedia have published examinations of Obukhanych’s background. Let’s just say that she never got past her second postdoc, never became faculty anywhere, and appears mostly to have been surviving on antivaccine grift since 2012 or 2013. Harriet Hall has dissected her antivaccine book, as well. Finally, the VaccinesWorkBlog analyzed an interview that she gave to Polly Tommey on the VAXXED bus (yes, she traveled with antivaxers in the VAXXED crew for a while), examining the reasons why she became antivaccine.

Unfortunately, it is Obukhanych’s superficial background as a seemingly once-legitimate PhD research scientist in immunology that makes her a powerful weapon in the antivaccine arsenal. She knows immunology enough to be able to distort it in ways that sound convincing, which is why a post she’s written has been making the rounds since the publication of the two immune amnesia papers last Friday. The post appears on her blog and is entitled Should you be afraid that measles can give you immune amnesia? Because of Obukhanych’s PhD in immunology, it’s a particularly painful bit of cherry picking, denialism, and Gish galloping to behold, and I’m sure that if any antivaxer reads my post here they’ll likely reject my deconstruction because I am not a PhD immunologist. Appeal to authority is just that strong. But I have to try anyway, mainly because there’s so much bullshit to unpack in Obukhanych’s post, and unpacking bullshit is one of the things I do best.

Let’s begin.

Cherry picking galore

If there’s one thing that I noticed about Obukhanych’s post, it’s cherry picking. Actually, it’s cherry picking and Gish galloping. You remember the Gish gallop? Duane Gish is a creationist whose name was attached to the dishonest rhetorical technique of citing so many obscure studies and references that an opponent either couldn’t be familiar with them all or would waste time trying to swat down all the bad and pseudoscientific studies and assertions.

You’ll soon see why I say this:

In 2002, Dr. Peter Aaby and co-authors published a study conducted in rural Senegal, in the area that had an outbreak of measles. According to the study: “No index or secondary case of measles died in the acute phase of infection nor did any of the children exposed to measles die in the first 2 months after exposure.” (And given what we know from the 2015 Lancet Global Health publication, identifying vitamin A deficiency as a risk factor for mortality from measles, we can safely assume that perhaps children in this area were not as deficient in vitamin A, as children in other parts of Africa and Asia, where measles infection is known to result in high mortality.)

Dr. Aaby and co-authors were testing a commonly held assumption that after surviving measles, children would have a higher mortality rate from other infections due to long-term immune-suppression, which is thought to follow measles. But they got the opposite results. In fact, they found that “exposed children developing clinical measles had lower age-adjusted mortality over the next 4 years than exposed children who did not develop clinical measles.”

Naturally, I had to go straight to the source and look up the paper. Interestingly, she left out that this study was primarily looking at less severe cases of measles, and the authors themselves pointed out that their results didn’t refute the hypothesis that measles infection results in excess mortality due to infectious causes other than the measles:

These observations on the beneficial long-term conse- quences of mild measles infection do not exclude that measles infection may have an important negative effect on long-term survival under certain conditions. Children intensively exposed to measles receive a high dose of in- fection and have severe infection [12] and children exposed very early in life [34] may be particularly likely to suf- fer long-term excess mortality. We have previously found that secondary cases had significantly higher long-term mortality than index cases ([12], authors unpublished obser- vations). Though they had only an insignificant increase in post-measles mortality compared with uninfected commu- nity controls in the Senegalese outbreak between 1983 and 1986 [12], long-term consequences could be more severe in outbreaks with a higher case fatality. We have also found that very young children exposed to measles when less than 6 months old have long-term excess mortality [34]. Both high-dose [35] and young age [36] may favour Th2 immune responses.

Also, the paper is 17 years old. There are a number of studies since then. Let’s move on, though. Obukhanych cites three more papers, a study looking at Senegal, a study from Guinea-Bisseau, and a study in rural Bangledesh. Notice anything about them? I did! they’re all by the same author, Peter Aaby, who was first author on all of them. One interesting thing about Aaby is that he agrees with the results showing that vaccination against measles in a population produces a reduction in mortality far greater than can be explained by its effect preventing measles infections. He says so in the papers cited by Obukhanych and has said so in interviews.

For example:

What happened was that once we started vaccinating against measles, the general child mortality dropped by 60 pct. It made us understand that not only did the new vaccination scheme prevent measles infection, but it also had other preventive effects.

Here’s the thing. He also believes that the measles produces an “activation” of the immune system that could result in decreased mortality after a measles infection. He even said as much in the conclusions of first paper cited, in which he asks whether the improved survival he saw in the population after measles is due to selection bias or immune activation and argues that immune activation is a better explanation than bias. (Selection bias occurs when there is an unacknowledged or unknown bias in the selection of subjects in clinical trial or epidemiological study that could contribute to the result seen.) There’s also the issue that these studies are all from developing countries with (at the time) relatively poor vaccination coverage. To boil it down to its essence, Obukhanych cherry picked papers from a single author with a pet hypothesis about nonspecific effects of vaccination. Indeed, it is very telling to me that the newest paper Obukhanych cites here is 16 years old.

Let Obukhanych’s Gish gallop begin!

Amusingly, Obukhanych next pivots to a review article published in 2012 that looked at macaque monkey models showing immunosuppression by a mechanism similar to that found in the two studies published last week, namely preferentially infecting memory lymphocytes and thereby degrading immune memory:

OK, here we have a preferential infection of memory lymphocytes by the measles virus resulting in a temporary loss of immunologic memory. So what? When was it ever proven that immunologic memory has anything to do with protection from re-infection? In fact, the opposite has been demonstrated by the research conducted in the lab of Swiss scientist (and a Nobel Prize winner in 1996) Dr. Rolf Zinkernagel. In the title of his 2012 critical review, he clearly states: “Immunologic memory does not equal protective immunity.”

First off, “critical reviews” are not the same thing as systematic reviews. A critical review is basically an opinion piece. True, in scientific journals critical reviews are usually peer-reviewed, but their authors are also given wider latitude to speculate. If you don’t believe me, just look at the abstract, where Zinkernagel states:

So-called ‘immunological memory’ is, in my view, a typical example where a field of enquiry, i.e. to understand long-term protection to survive reexposure to infection, has been overtaken by ‘l’art pour l’art’ of ‘basic immunology’. The aim of this critical review is to point out some key differences between academic text book-defined immunological memory and protective immunity as viewed from a co-evolutionary point of view, both from the host and the infectious agents.

That first sentence strikes me as, well, trolling. One notes that, were Zinkernagel actually correct that immunological memory has little or nothing to do with long term immunity, he could very well have won his second Nobel Prize. Remember the Nobel Disease? It’s a term I coined (at least I think I was the first to coin it—I can never be 100% sure—but I certainly adopted it and popularized it). Basically, it’s a term that describes the propensity of Nobel Prize winners to adopt contrarian views later in their careers or to become outright quacks or cranks, as, for example, Luc Montagnier and Louis Ignarro did. Is this an incipient case of Nobel disease? Who knows? Maybe he’s just being a contrarian. Oh, wait. He’s fine, if a bit contrarian! Zinkernagel also argues that antibodies are very important for long term immunological protection! He even says so in the abstract:

These often do correlate with, but are not the key mechanisms of, protection. Protection depends on pre-existing neutralizing antibodies or pre-activated T cells at the time of infection—as documented by the importance of maternal antibodies around birth for survival of the offspring. Importantly, both high levels of antibodies and of activated T cells are antigen driven.

And here:

Successful vaccines protect humans by neutralizing antibodies via reexposure and immune complexes [6–9, 11, 60]. In contrast, we still lack efficient vaccines that maintain activated T cell responses (and/or neutralizing antibody responses) against highly variable agents for a long time as is necessary against HIV, HCV, malaria, TB, and many other infections [17, 18, 27, 57, 60].

Of course, immune memory response is complex and depends on a lot of factors, more than just antibodies. For instance, this review article notes:

One of the hallmarks of our immune system is the ability to “remember” past exposure to pathogens. Such exposure can be from infection or vaccination, and by remembering we are, ideally, fully protected from infection upon future encounter with the same pathogen (1). Although humoral immunological memory is mediated in part by serum antibodies secreted by long-lived plasma cells (LLPCs), these cells are usually not described as memory B cells. Instead, memory B cells are defined as long-lived and quiescent cells that are poised to quickly respond to antigen upon recall (2–5).

During an initial infection, naive B cells are activated by antigen in the presence of a specific type of T cell in the follicles of lymphoid organs, like the spleen and lymph nodes, undergoing a clonal expansion (proliferation from a single genetically identical cell) to produce B cells specific for the antigen. These cells differentiate into plasma cells (also known as effector B cells) to produce a first wave of antibodies to clear the infection. A fraction persist as dormant memory cells. I won’t go into the details. There are rounds of selection for B cells whose antibodies have the greatest affinity for the antigen, resulting in the production of B cells with the highest number of mutation events in their immunoglobulin chain producing superior affinity for the antigen. The point is, memory B cells do a lot of things. For instance, when they encounter the same antigen again, they can reactivate rapidly, proliferate, create new plasma cells, and reenter germinal centers to undergo further selection improving the affinity of their antibodies. This reactivation depends on a specific kind of T cell, however. The Wikipedia entry is actually pretty good if you want the gory details.

The point is that the immune system is complicated, and memory B cells work in concert with specific T cell subtypes to reactivate an immune response.

The “antibodies don’t protect” gambit

After that bit of dancing around the evidence, Obukhanych’s Gish gallop continues:

‘Antibodies that offer protection’? Let’s pause right here. When was it ever proven that antibodies offer protection? In fact, the opposite has been observed. Don’t we remember another prominent scientist (and a Nobel Prize winner in 1960) Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet telling us the following regarding the role of antibodies (or rather lack thereof) for immunity in children who lacked antibody production due to a genetic condition called agammaglobulinemia:

“To everyone’s surprise [children with agammaglobulinemia] showed a normal measles course with a typical rash which faded at the normal time and was followed by just as substantial immunity against reinfection as would be shown by any other convalescent. Antibody production is therefore not necessary either for recovery from or for the development of immunity to measles.” (Burnet and White. Natural History of Infectious Disease. Cambridge University Press, 1940)

Wow! That sounds devastating! But is it? Not at all. First, it’s been known for a very long time that seroconversion after measles vaccination, with induction of measles neutralizing antibody titers greater than 120, correlates with protection against wild-type measles infection. It’s also known that, yes, children with congenital agammaglobulinemia can fight off measles. Why? The immune system is redundant! It’s also known that children with cellular immunodeficiencies are susceptible to severe progressive or even fatal measles. To put it simply (but hopefully not simplistically), it’s currently thought that cell-based immune responses are most important for clearing an acute measles infection, while antibody response is most important for preventing re-infection.

But did you see the bait-and-switch there? I almost missed it. Notice how Obukhanych is only talking about antibodies clearing measles infections, and then only the first acute infection. That’s not what the two papers were about! They were about how measles decimated memory B cells, thus decreasing antibody production against antigens other than measles, antigens from other infectious agents the individual had encountered during life. Just because a cell-based response is more important in clearing a measles infection than the humoral (antibody) response isn’t generalizable to other infections, which vary in terms of which response is most important to fight them off. Tricky, that Tetiana Obukhanych.

She gets trickier. After noting that adults with preexisting antibodies to measles can sometimes still get the measles, once again showing amazement that vaccines aren’t 100% effective, even for measles, Obukhanych writes:

A true correlate of protection is not the level of antibodies that bind to pathogens but virus- neutralizing serum titers. Those are measured by a technique called plaque-reduction neutralization, which is quite distinct from how antibodies are detected. When measured side- by-side using the same serum samples from research animals, virus-neutralizing measurements and antibody-binding titers do not follow the same pattern over time and therefore do not measure the same entity.

Before we start panicking over the demonstrated effects of the measles infection on the temporary loss of immunologic memory or diminished levels of virus-binding antibodies, let’s ask ourselves: do we even fully understand the biological basis of immunity from viral re-infection? Is the science really settled here? Because it doesn’t appear so to me.

Sure, but remember what the papers published last week showed. They showed the loss of antibodies to specific antigens after measles infection. If there are no antibodies to a particular antigen on a particular infectious agent, there won’t be any protection. Remember, Zinkernagel himself, whom Obukhanych cited, stated that preexisting antibodies are the most important indicator of protection against a pathogen. In other words, she’s just throwing out a shiny little fact that demonstrates precisely diddly squat about the papers she’s attacking.

Transfer factor, or: Enter the…red herring!

After going on about how opinions in immunology have shifted over the years over what part of the immune response is most important to immunity, cellular or antibody, Obukhanych then throws out a red herring:

And what is missing from the picture is immune cell-derived factor called Transfer Factor. TF was discovered in the 1950s by Henry Sherwood Lawrence.

In 1980, a seminal clinical research paper was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, showing that TF administered to children with leukemia in a double-blind saline placebo-controlled trial protected them from chickenpox during 12-30 months of the follow-up.

In this clinical trial, TF was prepared by extracting (dialyzing) it from leukocytes of donors who had a history of chickenpox. Researchers had to kill those leukocytes in order to extract TF out of them. And most likely, those were memory lymphocytes that contained TF, since it had to be obtained from people who already had chickenpox.

Let’s get back to the known propensity of the measles virus to infect and kill memory lymphocytes. Could it be that rather than making you less immune by killing your memory lymphocytes, the measles infection would make you more immune by killing your memory lymphocytes—due to releasing TF from all of those killed memory lymphocytes into your bloodstream? Did scientists measure the levels of serum TF to previously encountered infections before and after measles, the way they did for antibodies? I bet, no. Because that would put an end to the spread of the panic. And that wouldn’t be good for vaccine industry business and for vaccine mandates.

Notice the multiple slights of hand here, the multiple “if this then that” speculations? First off, leukocytes, the source of transfer factor, are not the same thing as lymphocytes. They’re different kinds of white blood cells types, and transfer factor was originally described as being isolated from leukocytes! Of course, surely she knows this. She just hopes that you won’t notice. It’s also why she blatantly speculates that in reality they must have been dialyzing memory B cells, which are a type of lymphocyte. Transfer factor can be isolated from lymphocytes, too, and it is true that lymphocytes are s subset of leukocytes (although they come from different precursor cells), but that doesn’t absolve her of her sleight of hand.

Moreover, there’s a reason almost no one is investigating transfer factor any more. First, the use of blood-derived products, except when necessary, took a major hit in the 1980s during the AIDS epidemic. Also, transfer factor has a rather strange history, with its proponents from the 1950s to the 1980s making miraculous claims for it, ending in a major scandal, as described in this 1973 New Scientist article, describing how a researcher was accused of falsifying his data in guinea pigs:

It’s a compound that’s never really been characterized, other than being a peptide below a certain size, and just perusing the scientific literature on it gives me the distinct feeling that it’s probably pseudoscience, given that transfer factors are touted for cancer, multiple sclerosis, asthma, hepatitis, AIDS, and many other diseases. (It doesn’t help that transfer factor has been turned into a supplement isolated from cows, mainly.) In any case, all Obukhanych is doing by invoking transfer factors is wildly speculating without evidence in order to try to cast doubt on the findings that measles kills memory B cells and thus leads to long lasting immune system compromise.

Finally, Obukhanych throws up another red herring:

Now, let’s address yet another facet of memory lymphocytes. A subset of them (memory Th2) is known to be an immunologic reservoir for allergic diseases, including asthma. In fact, it was even proposed in a 2006 publication in Pharmacology & Therapeutics that drugs are needed to target and eliminate these pesky memory Th2 cells, in order to reduce their contribution to allergic asthma.

And if the measles and chickenpox viruses already do just that – kill memory T cells – shouldn’t that lead to a reduced risk of asthma and other allergic diseases following these childhood diseases? Indeed, it should. And there are publications documenting such effects for measles in Africa and Europe, and for chickenpox in the USA.

Of course, most children don’t have asthma or severe allergies. Even if this “benefit” of measles infection were real, they wouldn’t benefit, and for children with asthma the risk of respiratory complications from measles (like pneumonia), plus its other risks of long term immune suppression, death, and the deadly subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) are too high a price to pay for a possible benefit of reducing asthma symptoms.

Tetyana Obukhanych: Antivax immunologist

I don’t know why Obukhanych became antivax and probably will never know. I just know from reading her attempt at deconstructing and refuting the two studies published last week that reinforced what we already knew about the effect of the measles virus on immune memory that she’s now using her PhD training and background in immunology to spread antivaccine misinformation that sounds more convincing that the usual antivaccine propaganda because she knows enough immunology to make that propaganda sound more “science-y.” Using a combination of cherry picked science, red herrings, and a fairly decent Gish gallop, she weaves a pseudoscientific tale of misinformation that is likely to be very effective at keeping wavering antivaxers from entertaining too many doubts based on these new findings about the measles virus.

Given how undistinguished her career has been since she finished graduate school, with no papers from her Harvard postdoc (if she was ever there at all) and no first author papers from her Stanford postdoc, I have to wonder if after her PhD she functioned more as a glorified laboratory technician than a true postdoc. It’s not a knock on her at all that she only had one first author paper during her PhD thesis work; many PhD programs require only one or at most two good first author paper, and a fair number of graduate students finish with only one. However, her productivity after her PhD work was abysmal, and it was probably clear that she wasn’t going to get a faculty position at a university and might even have trouble getting a job in industry. A more sympathetic explanation for her lack of productivity might be that she was being used as cheap lab labor. (This is just speculation on my part and could be wrong, but it happens with foreign postdocs more often than we in medical academia would like to admit.) So why not reinvent herself as an antivax immunologist? She’d gain instant respect at least.

My speculation could be entirely off-base, but what isn’t off-base is my conclusion that Obukhanych is now spreading dangerous antivaccine misinformation and using her PhD to project an air of scientific authority while doing it. Unfortunately, in her case, it’s false authority.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

57 replies on “Tetyana Obukhanych swings at the measles immune amnesia studies—and whiffs!”

Thank you. Between your and Logic of Science’s post, it’s hard to get away from an impression of dishonesty, and not just extreme antivaccine bias.

Your catch of the leukocytes/lymphocytes issues, and the misrepresentation of several of the studies used are highly troubling.

Yes, “Fallacy Man” (don’t know his real name) has credited you and recommended your piece for some additional good points 🙂

“Note: After writing this, I discovered that Orac beat me to the punch by 5 hours. Our overall assessments of the article are quite similar, but he brings up several good points that I did not, so I suggest reading his rebuttal as well”

The Vaxopedia link confirms my guess that Obukhanych was born in Ukraine, and assuming that she completed her Ph.D. in her late 20s puts her year of birth in the late 1970s. So her teenage years would have been in the early 1990s, around the time the Soviet Union broke up. I don’t know what vaccine schedules the USSR would have recommended for children of her cohort, or whether there might have been quality issues with those vaccines (I have heard reports of fake vaccines in China a few years ago, and the late USSR had jokes along the lines of, “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us”). And I strongly suspect that she would not have gotten a pertussis booster vaccine as a teenager, given that many people in the region were focused on basic survival during those years. So it’s possible she didn’t get the equivalent of the full US recommended schedule. Even if she did, she might have been among the unlucky in whom the vaccines didn’t take full effect and therefore became vulnerable if, as I find plausible, the chaos associated with the end of the USSR caused MMR uptake rates to dip below the herd immunity threshold (governments in the region may not have been tracking this at the time).

Speaking from memory, there was a problem at one point with a Soviet-made measles vaccine (it was available in Poland, too), which was much less effective than it should be and people still got measles. As for pertussis booster, I do not remember getting it in my teenage years and I’m probably about the same age as Obukhanych. In fact, I only got one a few years ago, paying out of my pocket.

Thanks for the detail.

I will stipulate that “vaccines are not 100% effective” is not a good argument, but at least it is based in fact. And it sounds like Obukhanych may have gotten her measles vaccines from a bad batch.

Thank you, Orac!
You precisely describe how quacks and pseudoscientists abuse reasonable information/ research in order to deceive less enlightened followers. Over the years, I’ve seen how this talent develops in woo-meisters and anti-vaxxers ( although in some cases, their own background is suspect to begin with). Last week, we saw Dr Jay do similar calisthenics on television about ” how medicine has been wrong before” and ” we don’t know everything”. Like Eric, I read about Obukhanyk’s background** in Ukraine where diphtheria was a serious problem possibly when she still lived there.

I find that these days vaccine cranks are preternaturally attracted to immunology and the microbiome (( shudder)). These topics provide just enough fuzziness for the general reader wherein they can insert their speculative crap. An interesting note in that Vaxopedia entry: there are any researchers in her area BUT it is difficult to find any who agree with her particular bent. I know that this might be considered an appeal to authority ( “experts disagree”) BUT it can often be a measure of reality amongst scientists for sceptics to consider. How often have I asked woo-believers about why their “brilliant” hypotheses have NOT been investigated anywhere else by people in the appropriate field? ( Hint: because they don’t lead anywhere meaningful or they’ve already been discarded)

ALSO: why picture a YANKEE?

** study note: if there are y s in a name, it just might be Ukrainian – see Pylyshyn, less so in Russian.

If you have to ask why I picked a Yankee to illustrate striking out, you’ll never understand the answer. OF COURSE it HAD to be a Yankee!

Well, I figured as much
BUT STILL: we have to LOOK at him and THAT UNIFORM! And those crappy Yankee type face letters! EVIL incarnate!

Does the photo which clearly illustrates too little,too late have anything to do with the “too much too soon” argument?

Look at it this way, Denice: The Yankee batter is striking out. Which, if you are a baseball fan from outside the NYC metro area (or even in metro NYC if you prefer the Mets), is a good thing. Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for Goliath to beat David.

I thought it interesting that effects on allergy and asthma in Africa and Europe were mentioned. I thought these things only afflicted US Americans and maybe a few Canadians because of the vast array of vaccines they get.

If you hold a suitable degree, jumping on the anti-vax bandwagon will, with great certainty, get you paraded through town to the cheers of pre-assembled adoring fans who don’t demand much. Actually doing real science may, after a great deal of hard work, bring you some recognition from your peers but, for most, scarce recognition from the masses, much less fame and adoration.

What you say is very perceptive: scientists are people and some people seek out adoration and fame- perhaps with extra money involved. In fact, I’ve documented how anti-vax parents attempt to create a little buzz for themselves as writers, “experts”, speakers and internet personalities/ contrarians. possibly to show those experts ( doctors, researchers) how RONG they really are!
There is a ready-made audience of thousands for this material which enables them to sell books, give lectures or on-line advice and sponsor conferences/ protest such as the up-coming VIE event. Maybe the head Mom will rap for the crowd!
We even see them here at RI!

I have a fellow PhD candidate at my former place who did exactly that. The LinkedIn and Facebook profiles are completely different: LinkedIn has his official University position (coordinator of an Institute), his Facebook: a natural product MLM company…signed with the very same PhD I have, though he changed it to “optimal health” as if that was the PhD subject.

Obukhanych is particularly egregious because she knows better and chooses to deceive. An immunologist ignoring the anamnestic response on this subject is shameful and she’s flat-out wrong that antibody count cannot offer correlates of protection; just because all diseases don’t act that way doesn’t mean that we don’t know correlates of protection for many. All she’s doing is advertising that she isn’t a candidate for a real job so I hope she’s happy scraping by on her anti-vaxx grift.

Given she is trying to dismiss both antibodies and memory cells, what is there left to account for anti-vaxxers beloved supposed life-long immunity to all of their favorite diseases? Is it some sort of mind control of the body? – Oh, I had measles and it was really great but it would be in bad taste to take another bout that someone else should have so I’ll just decline the generous offer of some more virions. But ta very much all the same.

One aspect of the grift is that, except for public appearances, the whole thing can be conducted from the comfort of the grifter’s own home. No commuting to the lab. No unfashionable lab coats or tedious fiddling with gloves. No spills. No bad smells. No back stressing leaning over a microscope for hours on end. No pesky ethics rules or review boards.

doug: ”If you hold a suitable degree, jumping on the anti-vax bandwagon will, with great certainty, get you paraded through town to the cheers of pre-assembled adoring fans who don’t demand much.”

“(S)he is a Medical Doctor/has a PhD in Science! How dare you suggest they don’t know what they’re talking about when they condemn vaccines??!?”

“Thousands of M.D.s and PhDs with equal or better training and experience say vaccination has an outstanding record of safety and efficacy and is a vital public health measure. What about them?”


Orac: ”OF COURSE it HAD to be a Yankee!”

It’s always nice to see a Yankee striking out. However, to emphasize just where Tetyana Obukhanych is positioned on the immunology totem pole, if would’ve been more accurate to show a member of the Akron Rubber Ducks striking out.

Oh, but those thousands are in thrall of Big Pharma and don’t actually know anything except what Big Pharma has told them. They didn’t really learn anything in the years of their programs except what drug reps told them and paid them to believe.

would’ve been more accurate to show a member of the Akron Rubber Ducks striking out

Not the Lansing Lugnuts? (Even better, they play in Cooley Law School Stadium. One may recall that this is where “Dr.” Megan Heimer received her J.D.-like piece of paper before going to an unaccredited naturopathy [sic] school.)

Would like to inform everyone that Orac feels that I am spoiling the ‘group think’ so he has placed me in auto-mod. Think a third banishment is on the cusp.

Would like to inform everyone that Orac feels that I am spoiling the ‘group think’ so he has placed me in auto-mod. Think a third banishment is on the cusp.

Yah. You’ve made a nearly identical post previously, and it didn’t work out well, not that anybody gives a rat’s ass about delays in delivery of your mushy “payloads.”

I found something that all these debunks miss. In people who don’t make IgA antibodies IgM antibodies do the same job. This is a red herring too

“And if the measles and chickenpox viruses already do just that – kill memory T cells –” But the Science paper didn’t talk about T cells!

I was literally just lamenting that the researchers were only able to look at B cells and antibodies and not T cells!

I don’t know what happened at her Harvard postdoc. It may have been terrible. But even if it was horrible, that’s not license to lie about research!

Okay; so she is brilliant, experienced the awful cognitive dissonance that can only occur after a reality challenges your education, became skeptical about vaccines & was unable to be published because her studies would implicate vaccines.

That was’t hard.

I personally would follow Peter Aaby’s recommendations on vaccines without question but when I invoked him here just a few months ago; I was told his work had no relevance or us because his studies are conducted in Guinea-Bissau.

I believe the poster Chris was especially snarky about this.

So does Orac endorse Peter Aaby, or not? While we are complaining about cherry-picking; what are the thoughts about this:

All studies of the introduction of DTP have found increased overall mortality

That is also Aaby.

If there is evidence of increased mortality from the DTP in a third-world country endemic with all VPD’s; I find that highly relevant for us. If there is evidence of low-mortality from Measles in a third-world country; that is highly relevant for us. In fact, that vaccine-safety studies are only conducted in first-world countries; is highly relevant for concerns for bias.

Why is this the third post written in one week which supports everything I said here months ago?

The Measles vax provides positive non-specific effects of improving resistance to other pathogens, It should likely be given EARLIER than 15 months but the DTP & all varieties should be delayed & never be give concurrent with the measles vax.

Also note that Aaby’s studies are not in regards to the MMR but to the single, measles only vax which is not available in the U.S.

Why is this the third post written in one week which supports everything I said here months ago?

If that is true then it’s coincidental that you had a correct idea, if not then you are really full of yourself.

he Measles vax provides positive non-specific effects of improving resistance to other pathogens, It should likely be given EARLIER than 15 months but the DTP & all varieties should be delayed & never be give concurrent with the measles vax.

I’ll ask again. You base this on what exactly?

It’s kind of weird that antivaxxers reading this thread will probably think that provax people will look for any excuse to ignore people who use science for anti-vax purposes. Whereas this kind of critique is, as far as I am aware, exactly what any scientist presenting a paper has to prepare for. Pucker up buttercup, it’s about to get rough.

@ Number Wang,

It’s not possible to use science for antivaxx purposes. Science does not care about your agenda nor mine. If science finds a negative effect of vaccines; that aspect of vaccines is negative. If science finds a positive effect from vaccines then that aspect of vaccines is positive.

Vaccines are not a religion. Check your dogma at the door.

Wrong. It’s quite possible to use science for anti-vax purposes. Science is a method. A process. Do it well and the results are accurate and repeatable. Do it with bias and they are not.

“Okay; so she is brilliant”

Zero evidence that this is the case.

“experienced the awful cognitive dissonance that can only occur after a reality challenges your education”

or allowed pre-existing prejudices to crowd out when she learned during training (much more likely)

“became skeptical about vaccines”

became thoroughly anti-vaccine.

“& was unable to be published because her studies would implicate vaccines.”

I have not seen any evidence she even attempted to conduct a study to validate her cockamamie antivax theories, much less had papers rejected because They Don’t Want Us To Know. There have been deep-pocketed foundations as sources of funding for other antivax “research” (and grants available from government and other sources for quality studies of various kinds), so lack of money shouldn’t have been an excuse.

@ DB,

Zero evidence that this is the case


or allowed pre-existing prejudices to crowd out when she learned during training

The pre-existing prejudice of doctors & scientists is that vaccines are safe. If you were to experience an adverse vaccine-event after your next flu shot; that would invoke cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is an extremely psychologically uncomfortable experience.

became thoroughly anti-vaccine

Impossible. Doctors & scientists are prejudiced against antivaxxers. You would experience an adverse event & cognitive dissonance. The dots start to connect against your own will & you will literally endure the ‘5 stages of grief” & depending on the severity of your adverse event; you become stuck in the ‘anger’ phase. You will never move on to ‘acceptance’ for something that is so unacceptable.

deep-pocketed foundations as sources of funding for other antivax research

Again; an impossible scenario. Science does not care about your dogma. Maybe she intentionally avoided those resources.

If you were to experience an adverse vaccine-event after your next flu shot; that would invoke cognitive dissonance.

Oh goody, a fortune teller.

@ Dangerous Bacon:**

Good luck trying to enlighten scoffers. We all know how that will turn out BUT you DO instruct sceptics, regulars and lurkers. Personally, I think the ones who persist are looking for interaction at any cost with the unrealistic hope of overturning everything SBM has learned. People have betes noires, obsessions or “sensitive areas” wherein instruction fails because the topic is too emotionally loaded. Orac can delineate each instance of distortion or mis-information by a writer and yet, it doesn’t sink in. People who arrive at their beliefs through reason or data can be influenced that way but those who came to their beliefs through emotion or delusion cannot learn through data. Perhaps they can’t learn at all.

As an example, if you met a racist who despised black people, could you use data from education, history, psychology or even judicial rulings that could convince them to think otherwise? Could you show them how black people are just as “good” as white people BUT have suffered greatly and been treated unfairly for centuries?. You might affect someone who had slanted views based on mis-information learned perhaps as a child or through the general social milieu. People have quit white power groups and tried to show current members the error of their ways. Few succeed.

Thus, we’re not really dealing with education: we’re dealing with (probably) psychotherapy- for lack of a better term ( which cannot be done over the internet with unwilling participants). Anti-vaxxers hold unrealistic beliefs that cannot be supported by real life information: data and research; careful explication like that which Orac, you and regulars supply fall upon deaf ears- they are automatically rejected. No matter what. Our efforts are aimed at people on the fence, those who want to learn and those with open minds. That’s the target audience. Those who believe that research is fixed, that professionals are shills and everything taught in universities is suspect are not reachable. So I don’t try.

** also Science Mom and others – I’m not asking you to stop, I enjoy your writing. I actually had to study how the immune system works when I worked with hiv+ clients.

@ Denice,

Personally, I think the ones who persist are looking for interaction at any cost with the unrealistic hope of overturning everything SBM has learned

My likely unrealistic hope is that advocates for SBM will realize that there is not much of that available in the research of vaccines.

Mostly, I’m just devastated by the continuing loss of life & health from vaccines.

I would like to say ‘Don’t say nobody tried to warn you’ & forget that ya’ll even exist but then another baby dies & I’m kicking myself in the ass.

@ Science Mom:

For sure.
A True story from the darkest reaches of woo-topia ( PRN):
the woo-meister supreme recounts tales from nutrition class ( alternate paths BS degree) wherein he “educated” the instructor how everything the latter taught was totally rong and how he, Master of his Domain, had PROVED the REAL Science in his own Research. He claims that he was thrown out of the class many times before his eventual Triumph as a Scientist.

In all of my studies, I only encountered one person who attempted something similar and the prof just roasted her alive. Her continued studies were, shall we say, discouraged.

He claims that he was thrown out of the class many times before his eventual Triumph as a Scientist.

But of course he did as the alternative would be to shut up or tell the truth and what kind of grift would that be?

The children suffering vitamin A deficiencies are usually not the ones in rural areas where the families can grow vegetables and harvest wild greens. It’s the children in the urban slums, where they can’t grow vegetables and the ones in the markets are expensive.

@ Science Mom,

You know, just like you and your nursing degree*

Yeah we were taught that vaccines are good for public health. The only adverse event we were educated about was an anaphylactic reaction.

I graduated in 1992, Yet we were never told about VAERS.

I graduated in 1992, Yet we were never told about VAERS.

You’re not exactly a credible reporter so that’s hard to believe but more importantly, you learnt how to research topics. Blaming others for your failures is weak.

Hello, Christine Kinkaid. You said you graduated in 1992 — that is, 27 years ago . I do not know how long your degree program was, or at what point in the program you had vaccine-related information, but the VAERS system was only established in 1990. It’s hard to tell how long it took for the existence of the program to percolate out to physicians who immunized, or to nursing programs.

But surely you have been curious since?

Established in 1990, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is a national early warning system to detect possible safety problems in U.S.-licensed vaccines. VAERS is co-managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


I was a pretty early internet adopter, with a dial-up modem and all, and I’m pretty sure it was WELL after 1992 that I had even dial-up access to bulletin boards. As far as reporting putative vaccine injuries back in the early 1990s, would have had to called the physicians office, or taken the child into the office, and demanded a report.

The development of patient Vaccine Information Sheets, especially with respect to enabling parental direct report, has been an iterative process.


2016 was the 40th anniversary of the first vaccine patient information sheet produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since then, these materials have evolved, influenced by a variety of internal and external factors. How have these factors transformed vaccine information materials from the first “Important Information Statement” in 1976 to the 28 “Vaccine Information Statements” in use today?

According to this history, a referral to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System was part of the VIS development process.


The challenge was to reduce this burden on the parent, while still providing information required by law. In January of 2008 CDC introduced the first “Pediatric Multi-Vaccine” VIS. By consolidating information from five childhood VISs (DTaP, polio, hepatitis B, pneumococcal conjugate, and Haemophilus influenzae type b) into a single two-page document, VIS developers were able to reduce parents’ reading load considerably. This reduction was accomplished by eliminating some “nice to know” information, such as detailed explanations of indications or catch-up schedules, and consolidating information, such as descriptions of VICP and VAERS, which are common to all VISs.

I found this interesting paper:
T-independent type II immune responses generate memory B cells
Tetyana V. Obukhanych, Michel C. Nussenzweig
Journal of Experimental Medicine Feb 2006, 203 (2) 305-310; DOI: 10.1084/jem.20052036
Note the name of first author . So they are no memory B cells now ?

Re: leukocytes/lymphocytes, I had long thought that lymphs were a subset of leukocytes.

Not that the conflation isn’t still dishonest.

Yes, you are correct, lymphocytes are a subset of leucocytes, not “different immune cell types”.

“Types of leukocytes can be classified in standard ways. Two pairs of broadest categories classify them either by structure (granulocytes or agranulocytes) or by cell lineage (myeloid cells or lymphoid cells). These broadest categories can be further divided into the five main types: neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes”

Hopefully Dr. Gorski will correct this minor error before some antivaxxer homes in on it to discredit the whole article.

Lymphocytes differentiate from an entirely different progenitor cell than leukocytes and have very distinct functions from neutrophils, etc., which is why I referred to them as a different immune cell. However, nomenclature-wise, they are a subtype of leukocytes. It doesn’t change my main point about the bait-and-switch. I altered the wording a bit.

Similar to stopped clocks*, every once in a great while antivaxers come out with something that’s true. One notorious AVer (the millions of fantasy health freedom fighters guy) just had this to say:

“EVERYONE who gets any kind of vaccine develops health and/or mental problems. No exceptions…”

Absolutely correct. Not only that, EVERYONE who’s vaccinated dies. It may take many decades but it always occurs. No exceptions to that either.**

*actually, stopped clocks are right twice a day, a level of accuracy antivaxers have never approached.
**unless you take lots and lots of resveratrol.

Whilst searching for something***, I came across an entry on Quora whose author stated that ALL people with autism are Unvaccinated BECAUSE….. wait for it…..
autism develops in utero prior to any vaccines

** but DB, there’s a video about “How to Live Forever” involving resveratrol!

*** I was looking for studies of unvaccinated autists – I already know about Jain et al and KiGGS but someone recently mentioned Madsen and others– so if anyone has SB studies about autism rates amongst the unvaccinated
PLEASE identify them..
I know that there are bad studies from anti-vax sources- not them, they’ve been demolished already by Orac et al. .

OT but is anti-vax EVER truly OT @ RI?

Orac, could you please, please post or link to Dr DG’s totes excellent review of Bill Maher and Dr Jay?
It is highly entertaining and informative.

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