Statistics and Lies

In my time with the Ministry of Health I occasionally came upon the lunatic fringe who make up the general brigade of nutters we know as Antis, NIMBYs and NOTEs.

Antis are against things like vaccination, fluoridation, chlorination, preservatives, artificial flavours and colours.  They tend to over-dramatise risks and play down benefits.  In many cases they completely invent risks. In other cases experts in a specific field get caught by making pronouncements they are not qualified to make.  Epidemiology is not a precise science and relies on carefully calculated statistical associations with reasoned consideration of confounding factors.  It is easy to get wrong.  The problem is that if you get it right, frequently no one believes you, because bad news is usually more welcome, or at least more believable.

It seems that something like that may be going on in Europe at present.

Misleading report on pandemic (“Swine”) flu vaccine-narcolepsy link?

There’s another vaccine scare in the news. But is it real? Scientists are linking the Pandemrix H1N1 swine flu vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline in 2009 with 795 cases of narcolepsy in children in Europe, Reuters reports.

“There’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Pandemrix increased the occurrence of narcolepsy onset in children in some countries � and probably in most ccountries,” says Emmanuel Mignot, a Stanford University narcolepsy expert.

The vaccine was not used in the United States because it contains an adjuvant, or booster, which regulators are wary of. But over 30 million people in 47 countries did receive the shot.

Angus Nicoll, a flu expert at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, says it’s possible the children’s genetic makeup,  the vaccine and possibly a third factor � “like another infection”� � combined to cause the narcolepsy cases. There are a number of studies being conducted.

In the meantime, ACSH staff is wondering, has there truly been a spike in narcolepsy cases?

ACSH’s Dr. Gil Ross points out that “795 reported narcolepsy cases in 30 million vaccine recipients is equivalent to 27 cases per million people. Yet the incidence of narcolepsy in the general population is estimated to be between 200-500 cases per million � thus, the incidence of narcolepsy in vaccine recipients appears to be less than in the general population, which is, of course, impossible. I don’t see anything in these figures to indicate that the vaccine has any effect whatsoever on narcolepsy.”

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About Alan

Alone in a sea of spinifex.
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