Jun 03 2013

Vaccine Denial Pseudoscience

I was recently asked about this article, Bedrock of vaccination theory crumbles as science reveals antibodies not necessary to fight viruses, which is a year old, but is making the rounds recently on social media. I was asked if there is any validity to the article. It’s from NaturalNews (not to be confused with NatureNews), which means, in my experience, it is almost certainly complete nonsense.

For the average consumer my advice is to completely ignore NaturalNews and Mike Adams. He is, among other things, an anti-vaccine crank. This article is written by staff writer Ethan Huff.  Let’s take a close look  and see if it lives up to the site’s reputation.

He writes:

While the medical, pharmaceutical, and vaccine industries are busy pushing new vaccines for practically every condition under the sun, a new study published in the journal Immunity completely deconstructs the entire vaccination theory. It turns out that the body’s natural immune systems, comprised of both innate and adaptive components, work together to ward off disease without the need for antibody-producing vaccines.

He opens with a bit of hyperbole – medical science is developing vaccines for infectious diseases that respond to vaccines, not “practically every condition under the sun.” Further, his word choice marks his piece as propaganda, referring to the medical “industry” rather than medical “science.”

He takes a nose dive, however, in his next sentence – he claims that one study (already a dubious claim) deconstructs the entire vaccine theory, which is built upon thousands of studies over decades of research. The study in question: B cell maintenance of subcapsular sinus macrophages protects against a fatal viral infection independent of adaptive immunity, is not even a study of vaccines.

He claims that the study shows that the immune system does not need antibodies. One should wonder why the immune system evolved such an elaborate system of antibody production, and why it expends so much energy doing so. Further, there are antibody-mediated autoimmune diseases, a tradeoff that only makes sense if antibodies serve some purpose.

He continues:

But the new research highlights the fact that innate immunity plays a significant role in fighting infections, and is perhaps more important than adaptive immunity at preventing or fighting infections. In tests, adaptive immune system antibodies were shown unable to fight infection by themselves, which in essence debunks the theory that vaccine-induced antibodies serve any legitimate function in preventing or fighting off infection

Without even looking at the study it can be seen that Huff’s logic is fatally flawed. Even if the study showed what he claims (it doesn’t), that antibodies cannot fight infections by themselves, that does not mean that antibodies serve no purpose, or that vaccines cannot work by stimulating the production of antibodies.

Before I dissect Huff’s nonsense further, here is a quick overview of the immune system. The immune system is actually very complicated. It has different components that are more effective at fighting off different kinds of infections in different parts of the body. There is humoral immunity, which is based upon antibody production (antibodies are proteins that bind to anything foreign to target the immune system against it), and there is cellular immunity, which is essentially white blood cells and macrophages, which are large cells that eat foreign material or dead cells.

You can also characterize different parts of the immune system as passive, or innate, vs adaptive. The innate immune system keeps out invaders and fights them off nonspecifically. The adaptive immune system remembers foreign bodies through the stimulation of B-cells, and can then mount a quicker and more vigorous immune response over time.

Adaptive immunity is how vaccines work – they expose the immune system to a weak infection, or to viral or bacterial elements, that then trigger the production of memory B-cells so that the next time the body is exposed a more rapid immune response can fight off the infection before it takes hold.

The importance of cellular vs antibody-mediated immunity and the various parts of the immune system differ with different infectious and foreign agents. What this study shows is that for a particular virus, which is a very small virus, the neurotropic vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), mice that have B-cells but do not produce antibodies were able to fight off the infection. The authors conclude that this means that B-cells are necessary to stimulate macrophages, which ultimately kill the virus, independent of adaptive immunity.

Huff’s primary illogic is in concluding that this study, which involved one particular type of virus, can be extrapolated to all infections. Given what we already know, this is absolutely not true.

For example, there are many types of disorders of immunodeficiency, including those who cannot make antibodies for themselves. They are highly susceptible to infections, and are treated by giving regular infusions of intravenous immunoglobulins (antibodies).

There is also all the evidence that vaccines actually work.

What Huff is doing is taking one study with very narrow implications, and then completely misinterpreting it. He ignores the vast scientific literature on the immune system, infectious diseases, and vaccines, and the complexity of the immune system to make very simplistic and wrong conclusions.

In short, this article is pure propaganda, not serious science. It is only evidence that NaturalNews is a crank website whose advice is best completely ignored.

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