By Leah McLaren - Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 0 Comments
How Andrew Wakefield’s bogus theory spawned a generation at risk
Earlier this month, in the small coastal city of Swansea, Wales, a 25-year-old man with measles was found dead in his flat. It was the first measles fatality in Britain in five years, and a bleak development in an epidemic caused by a health scare that began here more than a decade and a half ago.
Almost 900 people, mostly children and adolescents, have contracted the disease in recent weeks. Health officials say it’s the result of a “lost generation” of children, now roughly 10-18 years old, who did not receive their vaccinations as infants in the 1990s. Back then, there were widely publicized concerns about a link between bowel disease, the MMR vaccine—which protects children against measles, mumps and rubella—and autism. While the link was later disproved and the 1998 paper that promoted it exposed as fraudulent, many parents, particularly in the Swansea area where the local media took up the story, still failed to get their children immunized. Why this legacy of mistrust took hold in south Wales more strongly than the rest of the country is not entirely known, though most put it down to those early reports, combined with a relatively inward-looking culture. What’s certain is that consequences could be dire.
The Swansea epidemic shows no signs of ending; 121 new cases appeared in the last week. Epidemiologists expect the outbreak could last until the summer holidays and beyond. And there are serious concerns it could spread to other parts of Wales, due to low vaccination rates across that region—as well as across the entire country. It is estimated at least 40,000 children across Wales are currently not vaccinated. Continue…
By Stephanie Findlay - Friday, January 11, 2013 at 2:53 PM - 0 Comments
A vaccine creates controversy in Calgary, is accepted in Pretoria
Death by cervical cancer is “horrible,” says Leon Snyman. “It’s not a disease that kills you quickly.” For the past two years, Snyman, an adjunct professor of gynecology at South Africa’s University of Pretoria, has been inoculating adolescent girls with the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, a preventative treatment for cervical cancer. Snyman says the vaccine has been greeted with enthusiasm: roughly 70 per cent of girls are choosing to be vaccinated. “People are not afraid of vaccines,” he says.
He’s having a far easier time than Juliet Guichon is. For the past four years, the University of Calgary bioethicist has been fighting to overturn the Calgary Catholic School Board’s ban on the vaccine, which targets strains of the virus most often contracted from sex. In November, the ban was overturned. But Guichon has found victory “sort of bittersweet,” she says. “Although we’ve succeeded in opening the door to the vaccine, it’s a shame it had to take this long.”
As many Catholic school boards in Alberta, Ontario and the Northwest Territories continue to ban the HPV vaccine, the Canadian government is helping fund what could be one of the largest rollouts of the vaccine in the world. Canada has committed $225 million to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI); in Tanzania last month, it announced the launch of a pilot run of the vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa with a goal of vaccinating more than 30 million girls. Continue…
By Kate Lunau and Martin Patriquin - Monday, January 9, 2012 at 11:30 AM - 0 Comments
With vaccination rates plummeting, are anxious parents putting everyone at risk?
On April 8, Pierre Lavallée took a call from Quebec’s public health ofﬁce. Lavallée was into his ﬁfth and last year as principal at Marie-Rivier high school in Drummondville, a town of about 67,000 an hour’s drive east of Montreal. He learned that a school employee had gone to the emergency room with a fever and rash the day before. Doctors quickly isolated the woman and rushed her to intensive care, where she was diagnosed with measles, a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus. According to the World Health Organization, measles was eradicated from the Americas in 2002.
Later, just after four o’clock, Lavallée received a fax from Dr. Danièle Samson, the director of infectious diseases for the region. “The staff and students at Marie-Rivier were in contact with a person very likely suffering from measles,” it began. The letter was to be forwarded to 1,475 students and staff, but most had already left for the weekend, so it was only circulated the following Monday. “I actually had measles when I was six or seven years old,” says Lavallée. “It was 40 years since I’d even heard of it popping up.”
Thus began what the Quebec government calls by far the worst measles outbreak in the Americas in 20 years. Over the next eight months, 763 cases were reported in the province, the vast majority in Mauricie and Centre-du-Quebec, a region that includes Drummondville. Roughly 11 per cent of those who were infected were hospitalized. Even a few who were inoculated as children caught the virus. “I didn’t think I could get it,” says Pascal Tarakdjian, 38, a science teacher at Marie-Rivier and the second conﬁrmed case at the school. “I went to the hospital and told the staff that I might have measles symptoms, but they didn’t react because they didn’t know.”
By macleans.ca - Friday, February 12, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
It takes a village to raise an idiot
Jacques Rogge and the rest of the executive board of the International Olympic Committee have relented and will allow the Australian International Olympic Committee to fly its iconic “boxing kangaroo” flag from a balcony of the Vancouver Olympic Village. The flag was ordered removed because the IOC bans unauthorized commercial symbols, and the cartoon ’roo is trademarked, albeit only to the Australian Olympic Committee. The dispute ﬁred up Aussies everywhere. Deputy PM Julia Gillard called it a “scandal.” Vancouver radio phone-in callers raged at the IOC’s bully tactics. IOC spokesman Mark Adams called the issue “a storm in a teacup.” Meantime, athletes are streaming to the Oz sector of the village for a photo with the giant ’roo.
He did it for the kids
It was death in the afternoon for any bull that Jairo Miguel Sànchez Alonso faced Saturday at an arena in southwest Spain. The 16-year-old killed six bulls without mussing his sparkly white suit of lights. He returned to Spain after several years apprenticing in Mexico, where there is no minimum age for fighters. He almost died there in 2007 when a bull gored him. Alonso holds no grudges. “I feel quite bad when the bull has been good and you see the expression on his face, the innocence,” he says. “He has given you his bravery.” The event, while bloody, had a softer side. It was a fundraiser for children with autism.
Bad times for burkas
French Prime Minister François Fillon announced this week he’ll deny citizenship to a Moroccan national who forces his French-born wife to wear a burka. “If this man does not want to change his attitude, he has no place in our country,” he said. Meantime, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s call for a law banning full burkas is gaining steam. He has declared the full veil and body covering “not welcome” in France, and inconsistent with the country’s values. It’s certainly not welcome in Paris post offices. Two burka-clad robbers walked into a post office in the Paris suburb of Athis Mons, an area with a large immigrant Muslim population. They pulled out handguns and stole the equivalent of $6,000.
Blades of glory
Germany’s Katarina Witt and Canada’s Elizabeth Manley met on the ice in Vancouver Sunday, 22 years after the Teutonic bombshell and Canada’s sweetheart squared off in Calgary during the 1988 Olympics. Witt won gold but Manley, under enormous home-country pressure, pulled off the skate of her life to finish second. Both women are doing television colour commentary in Vancouver, but they took a turn on the Robson Square ice rink with young members of the Coquitlam Skating Club. “We’re not here for a rematch,” joked Manley, 44. “Not at our age, I’m 20—plus tax.” Replied a razor-sharp Witt: “Oh, my God! How much are taxes here?”
Tea time in Tennessee
Cranky country singer and musical comedian Ray Stevens’s flagging career was ready for a death panel. Then the 71-year-old singer of such novelty hits as Ahab the A-rab and Gitarzan wrote We the People, a lighthearted attack on President Barack Obama’s health care initiative. The video, which shows Stevens strumming a bathroom plunger and singing, “You vote Obamacare, we’re gonna vote you outta there,” is a YouTube hit and an unofficial anthem of the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement. Stevens sang at the group’s convention in Nashville on the weekend, where Sarah Palin raised eyebrows with her $100,000 fee for giving the keynote speech. “That’s a lot of damned tea,” grumbled one delegate.
Do as I say, not as I…ahh-choo!
As deputy health minister for the Czech Republic, Michael Vit has the job of deciding whether to impose mandatory swine flu vaccinations on “all people indispensable for the functioning of the country.” The day after receiving the assignment, Vit came down with H1N1 himself. “I have muscle problems, a headache, simply all symptoms of the flu,” he said. The deputy health minister admitted he had yet to receive the vaccination. “As you see, I’m a living example.”
‘Funeral’ for friends, and strangers
Canadian orchestral rockers Arcade Fire made it to the Super Bowl last weekend, when the group’s stirring anthem Wake Up, from their hit CD Funeral, was used in a series of NFL promo ads. While the group is protective of licensing its music, they had their reasons in this case. They turned over the fat licensing fee to Partners in Health, an agency with deep roots in Haiti. Band member Régine Chassagne’s family came from the island. She expressed her grief in an article in Britain’s Guardian newspaper: “I am mourning people I know. People I don’t know. People who are still trapped under rubble and won’t be rescued in time.”
Broom versus stick
Icy, obsessed with winning and not above the occasional cheap shot. Yes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and hockey are a match made in heaven. Hockey is “deeply reflective of the character of the nation,” he explained in a pre-Olympic interview with Sports Illustrated. Harper, who has studied the origins of the sport, said it contributes to “a uniquely Canadian sense of belonging in a community across the country.” Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff waxes poetic about a different sport: curling. Naturally, he identifies with the skip. “It’s the leadership and the precision, and the quiet,” he told the Globe and Mail. Apparently he’s not the sort of skip who shouts unseemly commands like, “Hurry, hurry hard.”
Very, very teed off
A Kelowna, B.C., entrepreneur is cashing in on Tiger Woods’s extramarital mayhem. Mike Caldwell has produced the Mistress Collection, a boxed set of 12 golf balls, each bearing a portrait of one of Woods’s mistresses. “He likes to play a round with them…and now you can, too!” notes his website, tailofthetiger.com. Caldwell says he sold 1,500 sets at US$54.90 in the first six days. Less than impressed is Joslyn James, an adult film star and alleged Woods mistress. She called a news conference to denounce the balls as hurtful and in bad taste. “It bothered me to think that someone would be standing with a dangerous club in their hands hitting a ball with my photo on it,” she said. She then showed her sensitive side by releasing 100 tawdry text messages she said she received from Woods.
You don’t want a visit by Oscar
Oscar the cat has a near infallible ability to detect which of the patients in the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, R.I., is next to die, says Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician. When Oscar curls up with a patient, staff know to phone the next of kin. “It’s like he’s on a vigil,” says Dosa. Such insight would come as no surprise to cat owners, who are themselves terribly smart. Certainly smarter than dog owners, according to a study by Dr. Jane Murray at the University of Bristol. Winston Churchill was a cat lover. Paris Hilton loves dogs. Want more proof? Cat owners (if anyone really owns a cat) are 1.36 times more likely than dog owners to hold a university degree. They’re also 100 per cent less likely to have to follow behind their pet and scoop droppings off the sidewalk.
Gay but not cheerful
The headline in the Seattle Weekly says it all: “Gay, mentally challenged biracial male cheerleader claims discrimination.” All that high school student Benjamin Grundy wants is to shake his pom-poms like the girls on the squad at Garfield-Palouse High School in tiny Palouse, Wash. Instead, the cheer coach suggested he’d make a great mascot. He was eventually given a cheerleader’s top but denied the rest of the uniform, pom-poms, and the right to join the dance routine. “I was reduced to standing there and moving my arms,” he says. The school board denies discrimination, but Benjamin’s mother, Suzanne Grundy, is pressing the case with the ACLU and her congressman. “The combination of a biracial, mentally challenged gay male may be too much for them,” she told the local TV station.
L’état c’est moi
Quebec’s Lieutenant-Governor Pierre Duchesne has revived a tradition that ended 44 years ago—awarding medals, in gold, silver and bronze, and bearing his coat of arms, to those making contributions to their communities. The practice of awarding such medals ended in 1966 after Quebec nationalists condemned the symbolic tie with the monarchy. Duchesne has no such qualms: he also invoked royal privilege to avoid testifying before a national assembly committee on how he spends some $1 million annually in taxpayer money. His refusal to testify was condemned by all sides of the legislature.
Disharmony in the house of Wang
It was Hong Kong feng shui master Tony Chan’s skills in arranging buildings to create a positive life force that drew Chan to the eccentric, pigtailed property magnate Nina Wang. He began a 15-year affair with Wang, 23 years his senior. Now, he’s accused of arranging her $4-billion fortune in a manner auspicious to himself. When she died at 69 in 2007, he claimed to be her sole heir. Her family contested the will, and he’s charged with forgery.
She also has a Ph.D. in thankless tasks
Leila Ghannam, a former Palestinian intelligence officer, is the first woman governor of Ramallah, the unofficial capital of the West Bank. Her challenge is to quash a resurgence by hard-liners in Hamas. “My intelligence experience, like my degree in psychology, helps me carry out my job,” she says.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 12:43 PM - 27 Comments
It has now been two weeks since Leona Aglukkaq’s office was asked to provide evidence to support the claim that Canada had the highest per capita supply of H1N1 vaccine. Such evidence has not yet been provided.
In the three sessions of Question Period since the Liberal opposition asserted this claim to be incorrect, the government has avoided making a specific per capita claim to this country’s vaccine supply. The closest Ms. Aglukkaq has come to the assertion was in this exchange last Friday. Continue…
By Kate Lunau - Monday, November 2, 2009 at 11:17 AM - 27 Comments
In lots of countries, males get the vaccine. It’s not approved here.
In schools, clinics and doctors’ offices across Canada, girls are being vaccinated against the human papilloma virus, the leading cause of cervical cancer. Behind closed doors, a few boys are quietly being vaccinated, too. In Canada, the Gardasil shot is only approved for use in females aged nine to 26, but “many physicians have vaccinated their boys,” says Dr. Michel Fortier, president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, which doesn’t endorse the use of Gardasil in males. In a growing number of countries, males can get the vaccine. Do they know something we don’t?
Cervical cancer kills about 400 women in Canada each year, but it’s not the only HPV-related cancer. Beyond genital warts, the most common sexually transmitted infection, HPV has been linked to penile, head and neck, and anal cancers, to name a few. In fact, the virus causes about six per cent of all cancers around the world, says Dr. Nubia Muñoz, in Toronto this week to accept the Canada Gairdner Global Health Award for her research into the virus. If we’re serious about eliminating it in the “foreseeable future,” says Nobel laureate Dr. Harald zur Hausen, who discovered that HPV causes cervical cancer, “I would strongly advocate the vaccination of boys.” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 9, 2009 at 11:45 AM - 42 Comments
Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the United States, Australia and China are already vaccinating their populations against the H1N1 flu. Europe and Japan will begin within the next few days. Canada will not begin for another month. The health minister says that this is all according to her plan. Could the government explain the logic of any plan that deliberately puts Canada behind the rest of the world in protecting citizens against H1N1? What is the logic of that?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, once again, the government bases its flu planning on the best advice of medical experts, including the chief medical officer. The immediate priority is seasonal flu vaccination. Canada will ensure that there is enough vaccine for every member of our population. That vaccine will be widely available the first week of November, as the government has said all along.