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Science Policy Around the Web – April 29, 2017

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By: Saurav Seshadri, PhD

digital forensics 5” by jon crel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Forsensic Science

Now Who Will Push Ahead on Validating Forensic Science Disciplines?

The realities of forensic science remain far removed from the white-coated wizardry depicted on shows like CSI. Although forensic results often heavily influence criminal trials, there is a substantial gap between the perceived and true reliability of commonly used methods such as fingerprint and bitemark identification. The National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) was established in 2013 to help close this gap, by promoting rigorous, independent evaluation of forensic techniques, as well as communication between law enforcement agencies and academic scientists. The NCFS was supported jointly by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), and has published over forty documents reflecting the consensus of scientists, lawyers, law enforcement officers, and other stakeholders.

Recently confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decided not to renew the NCFS’ charter, which expired on April 23, 2017. Its work will ostensibly be taken over by a new entity, which will be developed by a DOJ Subcommittee on Forensics and spearheaded by an as-yet-unnamed, DOJ-appointed Senior Forensic Advisor. The DOJ is currently seeking input on how best to organize this initiative, but its actions already suggest an unwillingness to follow expert guidance, such as the original recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences that led to the creation of the NCFS. The recommendations include ‘[t]his new entity must be an independent federal agency…[i]t must not be part of a law enforcement agency’ and ‘…no existing or new division or unit within DOJ would be an appropriate location for a new entity governing the forensic science community’.

Despite this setback, some of the NCFS’ contributions, such as promoting acceptance of the need for licensing and accreditation, may have a lasting influence on the field. In the NCFS’ absence, NIST is expected to play a central role in coordinating the forensic science community. Support for these efforts will be critical to improving standards in forensic practice, and ultimately, to providing justice to the American public. (Suzanne Bell, The Conversation)

Infectious Disease

Ghana, Kenya and Malawi to Take Part in WHO Malaria Vaccine Pilot Program

While interventions such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets have dramatically reduced malaria-related deaths, almost half a million people still die annually from the disease, predominantly children in sub-Saharan Africa. Continuing the fight against malaria, the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO/AFRO) has announced that a pilot program to test the world’s first malaria vaccine will begin in 2018. The vaccine (RTS,S or MosquirixTM) is the result of over $500 million in investment from GlaxoSmithKline and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It has shown promising results in Phase 3 trials, reducing rates of malaria by almost half in children treated at 5-17 months old. Following guidance from two independent advisory groups, the WHO will implement the vaccine in three countries that have high malarial burdens despite ongoing, large-scale anti-malaria efforts. The first stage of the program, which is being funded by several international health organizations in addition to WHO and GSK, will span 2018-2020, with final results expected in 2022.

RTS,S has followed an unconventional route to its current stage of development. It was approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) under Article 58, a mechanism that allows the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) to collaborate with the WHO and international regulatory agencies to evaluate drugs intended for use in developing countries. However, in the first ten years after its inception in 2004, just seven drugs received positive opinions from CHMP through Article 58, and among these, the EMA has reported limited commercial success. This track record, combined with the emergence of more attractive incentive programs to develop drugs for tropical diseases (including a priority review voucher system launched by the FDA in 2007), has raised questions about Article 58’s effectiveness. A positive outcome for RTS,S could revitalize the program and lead to more innovative treatments for vulnerable populations worldwide. (WHO/AFRO press release)

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April 29, 2017 at 8:56 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – July 26, 2016

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By: Ian McWilliams, Ph.D.

photo credit: Newport Geographic via photopin cc

Infectious Diseases

Research charities help marry two major South African HIV/TB institutes

Two institutes, the Wellcome Trust and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), have announced that they are joining efforts in to fund the fight against HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) in South Africa. South Africa has the largest population infected with HIV. Because TB thrives in HIV-infected individuals, South Africa is experiencing a co-epidemic that has been challenging to battle. This collaboration will mark the first time that HHMI and The Wellcome Trust have worked together on a global health institution.

The new Africa Health Research Institute combines the Africa Centre for Population Health’s detailed population data gathered from over 100,000 participants with basic laboratory science and medical research of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute TB-HIV (K-RITH). Together the organization will work towards eliminating HIV and TB by training African scientists and will “link clinical and laboratory-based studies with social science, health systems research and population studies to make fundamental discoveries about these killer diseases, as well as demonstrating how best to reduce morbidity and mortality.” Projects funded by the institute include maintaining the longest running population-based HIV treatment as prevention (TasP) trial in Africa and using genomics to study drug resistant TB.

The organization is funded by a $50 million grant from The Wellcome Trust that is renewable over the next five years. Additionally, HHMI has already spent $40 million for the construction of new facilities, including a new biosafety level 3 laboratory that is designed to handle dangerous pathogens. These new efforts aim to apply scientific breakthroughs to directly help the local community. Deenan Pillay, the director of the new institute, has expressed his support of the organization’s mission by stating “There’s been increasing pressure and need for the Africa Centre not just to observe the epidemic but to do something about it. How long can you be producing bloody maps?” (Jon Cohen, ScienceInsider)

Scientific Reproducibility

Dutch agency launches first grants programme dedicate to replication

While a reproducibility crisis is on the minds of many scientists, the Netherlands have launched a new fund to encourage Dutch scientists to test the reproducibility of ‘cornerstone’ scientific findings. The €3 million fund was announced on July 19th by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and will focus on replicating work that “have a large impact on science, government policy or the public debate.”

The Replication Studies pilot program aims to increase transparency, quality, and completeness of reporting of results. Brian Nosek, who led studies to evaluate the reproducibility of over 100 reports from three different psychology journals, hailed the new program and stated “this is an increase of infinity percent of federal funding dedicated to replication studies.” This project is the first program in the world to focus on the replication of previous scientific findings. Dutch scientist Daniel Lakens further stated that “[t]his clearly signals that NWO feels there is imbalance in how much scientists perform replication research, and how much scientists perform novel research.” The NWO has stated that it intends to include replication in all of its research programs.

This pilot program will focus both on the reproduction of findings using datasets from the original study and replication of findings with new datasets gathered using the same research protocol in the original study. The program expects to fund 8-10 projects each year, and importantly, scientists will not be allowed to replicate their own work. The call for proposals will open in September with an expected deadline in mid-December. (Monya Baker, Nature News)

Health Care Insurance

US Sues to block Anthem-Cigna and Aetna-Human mergers

United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch has announced lawsuits to block two mergers that involve four of the largest health insurers. Co-plaintiffs in the suits include eight states, including Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinoi, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Main, Maryland, and New Hampshire, as well as the District of Columbia. The lawsuits are an attempt by the Justice Department to block Humana’s $37 billion merger with Aetna and Anthem’s $54 billion acquisition of Cigna, the largest merger in the history of health insurers. The Justice Department says that the deals violate antitrust laws and could mean fewer choices and higher premiums for Americans. Antitrust officials also expressed concern that doctors and hospitals could lose bargaining power in these mergers.

Both proposed mergers were announced last year, and if these transactions close, the number of national providers would be reduced from five to three large companies. Furthermore, the government says that Anthem and Cigna control at least 50 percent of the national employer-based insurance market. Lynch further added that “competition would be substantially reduced for hundreds of thousands of families and individuals who buy insurance on the public exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act.” The Affordable Care Act (ACA) aimed to encourage more competition between insurers to improve health insurance options and keep plans affordable. The Obama administration has closely watched the health care industry since the passing of that legislation and has previously blocked the mergers of large hospital systems and stopped the merger of pharmaceutical giants, such as the proposed merger of Pfizer and Allergan.

Health insurers argue that these mergers are necessary to make the health care system more efficient, and would allow doctors and hospitals to better coordinate medical care. In reaction to the announcement by the Justice Department, Aetna and Humana stated that they intend to “vigorously defend” the merger and that this move “is in the best interest of consumers, particularly seniors seeking affordable, high-quality Medicare Advantage plans.” Cigna has said it is evaluating its options. (Leslie Picker and Reed Abelson, New York Times)

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July 26, 2016 at 11:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – January 29, 2016

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By: Daniël P. Melters, Ph.D.

Infectious Diseases

Zika virus, linked to microcephaly, on the rise

Only a few months after the scare of the epidemic of chikungunya, a new virus has emerged on the American continents: Zika virus. The same mosquito (Aedes aegypti) that transmits yellow fever, dengue, and chikungunya also transmits this virus. In the last few months of 2015, there was a sharp rise in babies born with microcephaly. Some hospitals in north Brazil that would only see five cases a year, now see over 300 in six months. These babies have abnormally small heads and the rare neurological disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome. The rise in cases with microcephaly strongly correlated with an ongoing Zika virus epidemic in the north of Brazil. In addition, the Zika virus RNA was found in the amniotic fluid of two fetuses. It is thought that women who were pregnant became infected with the virus and gave it to the growing fetus. Nevertheless, there is no formal evidence that the Zika virus causes microcephaly. In fact, a recent report argues that a surge in finding birth defects is too blame for the increase in microcephaly cases in Latin America.

This has not stopped local and global authorities from warning people of the potential dangers of the Zika virus. Brazil has suggested its citizens in affected regions not get pregnant. The CDC in the U.S. is warning tourists who go to regions where Zika virus is epidemic to take precautionary measures to prevent being bitten by mosquitos. On Thursday, January 28th, the World Health Organization declared an International Emergency. The last International Emergency was the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Another complicating factor is the expected increase in number of mosquitos due to El Niño. Although most people who get infected by Zika virus will remain asymptomatic, some people will have a rash and a fever. As of now, no cure exists. Therefore, researchers around the world are rushing to develop a vaccine. Two potential vaccines against West Nile virus, after being repurposed for Zika, might enter clinical trials as early as late 2016, according to Dr. Fauci (NIH/NIAID) [recent talk by Dr. Fauci on emerging viruses]. But caution about a quick cure is warranted, as it might take several years before a Zika vaccine becomes commercially available. (, BBC News website)

Mental Health

One step closer to understanding schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a debilitating psychiatric disease that affects over two million people in the United States alone. Often, this disease start in the later years of adolescence and early adulthood. Delusional thinking and hallucinations characterize schizophrenia, but the drugs available to date to treat schizophrenia are blunt and frequently patients stop using them because of their side effects. Although this new study will not lead to new treatments on the short term, it does provide researchers with first firm biological handle on the disease.

The developing human brain is the site of neuronal pruning. At first, the brain makes an excessive number of connections between neurons, but as children grow-up, most of these redundant connections are lost. You can see this a competition between the connections where the strongest ones survive. Neuronal pruning in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in thinking and planning, happens in adolescence and early adulthood. The latest finding, published in Nature, found that people who carry genes that accelerate or intensify that pruning are at higher risk of developing schizophrenia than those who do not. To date, no specific genetic variant has been found, although the MHC locus seems a likely candidate. Indeed, one specific gene in this locus, C4 gene, is involved in neuronal pruning. The C4 gene produces two products: C4-A and C4-B. Too much of the C4-A variant results in too much pruning in mice, which would explain why schizophrenic patients have a thinner prefrontal cortex. These new findings help to connect the dots better than ever before. Next up will be developing drugs that regulate neuronal pruning and the hope is that this will create a new anti-schizophrenia drug. (Benedict Carey, New York Times)

Technology

Analyzing body chemistry through sweat sensor

A small, wearable sensor has been created that can measure the molecular composition of sweat send those results in real time to your smartphone. The sensor, a flexible plastic patch, can be incorporated into wristbands. Several labs have been working on developing such a patch for a while, but most of them could only detect one molecule at a time. This newly developed flexible printed plastic sensor can detect glucose, lactate, sodium, potassium, and body temperature. When the sensor comes in contact with sweat an electrical signal is amplified and filtered. Subsequently, the signal is calibrated with the skin temperature. This latter step is essential, according to the lead scientist Jarvey. The data is then wirelessly transmitted to your smartphone. Because the sensor is not as accurate as a blood test, rigorous testing for medical use is therefore required.

The potential of this new devise is that it can tell, for instance, a diabetic patient in real-time that his blood sugar levels are too low or too high. It could also tell someone who is physically active that she is getting dehydrated and needs to drink water. One particular project could greatly benefit from this new technology. Last year President Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to enroll over one million American participants and follow them over time to learn about the biological, environmental, and behavioral influences on health and disease. After all, most disease still do not have a proven means of prevention or effective treatments. Having technology such as this that can monitor and track basic biological data in real time could provide a wealth of information to researchers looking to make connections between a person and a disease.  (Linda Geddes, Nature News)

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January 29, 2016 at 9:00 am

Global Occurrence of Zoonotic Tuberculosis: Ongoing Efforts…

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By: Ashley Parker, Ph.D.

photo credit: via photopin (license)

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease transmitted via droplets from the throat and lungs of infected individuals, and is caused mainly by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. According to the 2015 Global TB report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), TB affects millions of people every year and ranks alongside the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as the leading cause of death worldwide; in addition, 9.6 million new cases of TB were estimated in 2014. We typically think of TB as a disease that is spread from person-to-person; however Meera Senthilingam, writer for CNN, recently published an article about the transmission of TB from infected animals to humans, highlighting the spread of tuberculosis via a contaminated food source that originated in a cow infected with Mycobacterium bovis.

Although M. bovis causes less than 2% of the total number of TB cases in the United States (less than 230 cases per year), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the organism is also found in cattle and other animals such as bison, elk, and deer. “An increase in the number of cattle-associated cases in the U.S. was found to be near the Mexico border and among the Hispanic communities,” and was reported to be associated with the ingestion of unpasteurized milk and dairy products such as raw cheese, according to a speaker at the 46th World Conference on Lung Health. In California, the incidence of tuberculosis caused by M. bovis has increased recently. Of the approximately 19,000 patients who were enrolled in the states’ tuberculosis registry between 2003 and 2011, 3.4% of 2,384 cases were infected with M. bovis in 2003, increasing to 5.4% of 1,808 cases in 2011, with six cases having an association with at least one parent or guardian born in Mexico (Gallivan M, et al.). In an effort to manage the incidence and spread of bovine TB, the state of California is implementing strategies to limit the demand and distribution of unpasteurized milk and dairy products.

In other countries such as the United Kingdom, bovine TB is a major challenge for cattle farming industries, particularly in the west and southwest regions of England. In an effort to eradicate bovine TB, the UK government has developed actions outlined in their Bovine TB Strategy for England and UK Bovine TB Eradication Program, which include testing cattle herds for bovine TB and controlling TB in herds when detected, controlling the disease in badgers, improving biosecurity and husbandry on farms, developing TB vaccines for cattle, vaccinating badgers against TB, helping other industry sectors to deal with TB in non-bovine species, and developing the comprehensive bovine TB research program. According to a report by the CDC, many countries, particularly developing countries with limited resources, lack the ability to report all TB cases because of the difficulties with identifying suspected cases and establishing a diagnosis, and issues with recording and reporting cases. Another study presented at the 46th Union World Conference on Lung Health suggested that improper diagnosis and inadequate treatment was occurring in developing regions. In this study, “3,595 cattle and 266 livestock workers in Nigeria were screened for bovine TB; 10.4% of individual cattle, 42.9% of herds, 4.6% of butchers, and 6.1% of marketers were positive for tuberculosis.” There were major concerns about bacterial resistance, considering M. bovis is naturally resistant to pyrazinamide, a first line drug used as a standard treatment. Unfortunately, the CDC reports, of the 55 African countries, only 7 apply disease control measures as part of a test-and-slaughter policy and consider bovine TB to be a notifiable disease, while the remaining 48 apply inadequate control strategies or fail to control the disease. This leaves 85% of cattle and 82% of the human population exposed to bovine TB that is inadequately controlled or not controlled at all. In general, evaluation of M. bovis is not a routine part of laboratory testing for tuberculosis complex isolates, therefore most patients with the disease are not recognized. According to an article by Elizabeth Talbot, MD, the initial diagnostic approach for M. tuberculosis is also standard for M. bovis, including acid-fast staining, mycobacterial culture of relevant specimens, molecular testing for mycobacterial DNA, tuberculin skin test, and interferon gamma release assays. However additional tests should be requested in settings where M. bovis has high incidence rates or may be suspected, in an effort to properly identify the species. These tests include susceptibility testing, biochemical assays, and genomic analysis.

The spread of human M. bovis is a recognizable public health issue that is capturing attention in the United States and abroad. Although this organism primarily poses challenges in developing countries, the WHO recognized the importance and potential threat of human M. bovis in 1950 in the report of the Expert Committee on Tuberculosis. Recently, collaborative efforts have been made to eliminate bovine TB, involving WHO’s Division of Emerging and other Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Control, Veterinary Public Health program of the WHO Regional Office for the Americas, Pan American Health Organization, and additional working groups including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Office International des Epizooties Consultation on Animal Tuberculosis Vaccines. Successful vaccinations for cattle (developed in 1998 by WHO and organizations listed above) are currently being used in some countries. Plans to eradicate the disease are underway in specific countries, and are also part of a global 10-year plan, but will require better epidemiological surveillance to identify high risk areas, and properly implement control and elimination programs. Also, educating and notifying the public about the potential risk factors will help in the prevention of bovine TB.

Written by sciencepolicyforall

January 6, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – November 10, 2015

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By: Daniël P. Melters, PhD.

Infectious disease

Cattle trial cuts human sleeping sickness

In addition to HIV and malaria, sleeping sickness is another serious infectious disease causing major health problems in sub-Saharan Africa, resulting in many thousands of infections each year. In total over 65 million people are at risk of infection. The disease is caused by the protozoan parasite from the genus Trypanosoma, where Trypanosoma brucei gambiense accounts for more than 98% of all reported cases. The parasite is transmitted via tsetse flies. The people most affected by this parasite live in rural areas, where they are in close contact with life-stock. These life-stock hold an important step in the life-cycle of Trypanosoma. To make matters worse, diagnosis and treatment require specifically skilled staff, resulting in only about 30% of all infected individuals receiving treatment following a diagnosis.

A collaboration between the University of Edinburgh (UK), Makerere University (Uganda), and the Ugandan government has tried to tackle the problem by injecting 500,000 cows with a parasite killing agent in addition to regular fumigation with insecticide to qualm the number of tsetse flies. The number of people diagnosed with sleeping sickness went down by 90%. Following this successful trial the program will be expanded to cover the whole of Uganda, including the treatment of 2.7 million cattle. (SciDev.Net)

Precision Medicine Initiative

Privacy Risks from Genomic Data-Sharing Beacons

One of the corner stones of President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative is the broad sharing of medical data between many scientists, albeit in a responsible manner. In their recent report, the NIH Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program (PMI-CP) workgroup advised the creation of a “hub-and-spoke” model that has a Coordinating Center to provide safeguards to facilitate data access, data normalization, and participant engagement. Part of this dataset is genomic data from patients. One major concern about genomic and genetic data is that this can be used to identify the donor, even when the genomic data is made anonymous early on. A recent article by Shringarpure and Bustamante in the American Journal of Human Genetics provides evidence that it is not only possible to re-identify to whom an anonymous genetic ‘beacon’ belongs to, but also identifies their relatives with just 1000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP)s. A beacon is a web server that answer allele-presence queries in a binary manner. This might pose a serious privacy-concern for potential participants in the PMI-CP. This concern is not limited to the PMI-CP either. Recently the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) rolled out their Project GENIE where US and European research institutes will share their cancer genomes to catalyze the development of more precise cancer treatments. Nevertheless, Shringarpure and Bustamante do make several suggestions to continue to safeguard patient privacy. (American Journal of Human Genetics)

Direct-to-Consumer Genetics

Another Genetic Testing Company in Hot Water with the FDA

In November 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the direct-to-consumers health testing company 23andMe that they needed to comply with federal regulations with respect to approval for medical devices (section 201(h) of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetics Act). 23andMe offered a saliva-based genetics test that provided participants with an ancestry-based analysis of some of genetic markers, in addition to various health-related genetic variations (SNPs). The FDA is of the opinion that the latter one required approval by them as a medical device. Seven months after their warning, the FDA received an application from 23andMe. Recently, they obtained the federal seal of approval for a few of their health-related genetic tests.

23andMe is maybe the most well known of these direct-to-consumers genetic testing companies, but they are certainly not the only ones. On November 2nd, the Louisiana-based DNA4Life Company received a similar notification from the FDA. Just like 23andMe, DNA4Life has held the position that they do not need FDA approval to sell their genetic test kit. However, the FDA maintains that the genetic test, which predicts how patients will respond to 120 of the most common medication, meets the definition of a “medical device” and requires that the company either provide evidence of FDA approval or present why they do not need approval. DNA4Life has not yet publicly responded to the FDA notification.

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November 10, 2015 at 12:00 pm

California governor signs strict vaccination requirements into law

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By: Amy Kullas, PhD

photo credit: Vaccinate Your Child via photopin

On June 29 of this year, the California Senate passed SB277, one of the nation’s strictest vaccination laws. The very next day, California’s governor, Edmund Brown, Jr., signed the bill into law. SB277 transforms California – previously one of the most liberal states in terms of vaccination requirements – into one of the strictest. This bill makes California the third state (after Mississippi and West Virginia) to eliminate religious and other personal exemptions for vaccination. Under the bill, unvaccinated children without a medical exemption would have to study at home or in organized, private home-schooling groups rather than attend public school. Beginning January 1, 2016, schools will begin verifying that children entering kindergarten or advancing to seventh grade for the upcoming school year are vaccinated. On and after July 1, 2016, in order to attend public or private schools, students will need to have received vaccines for: diphtheria, Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib meningitis), measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), poliomyelitis, rubella (German measles), tetanus, hepatitis B and varicella (chickenpox).

Infectious diseases are not new and have been killing since the dawn of mankind. However, in the 18th century, a revolutionary scientific innovation was identified: vaccination. Edward Jenner is accepted as the ‘grandfather’ of the modern vaccine. After hearing stories of how dairymaids were seemingly naturally protected from smallpox after having suffered from cowpox, he hypothesized that cowpox could be used as a deliberate mechanism of protection. In May of 1796, Jenner located a dairymaid, who had fresh lesions on her hands and arms and inoculated a young boy with material drawn from one of her pustules. The boy reportedly developed mild symptoms, but after about 10 days felt much better. That July, Jenner inoculated that same boy again, this time with pustules from a fresh smallpox lesion. After no disease development, Jenner concluded that the boy was protected from smallpox based on his earlier exposure to cowpox. This groundbreaking discovery of transmitted protection was the start the concept of immunization.

The controversy around eliminating the “personal belief exemption” was ignited in California after a measles outbreak started in at Disneyland last December and quickly spread to seven states and internationally into Canada and Mexico. Though the outbreak sickened approximately 150 people in the United States, fortunately no deaths were reported. The majority of the individuals infected by the measles outbreak were either unvaccinated (71 or 45%) or their vaccination status was unknown (60 or 38%). Only 28 people or a dismal 18% had reported receiving the measles vaccine! Further, of the U.S. residents who caught measles and were unvaccinated, 29 (43%) gave philosophical or religious objections to vaccination while 27 (40%) were ineligible because they were too young to receive the full course of vaccines, or they had a medical condition that prevented vaccination. Amidst the measles outbreak, Californian senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein wrote to state health officials, saying that “while a small number of children cannot be vaccinated due to an underlying medical condition, we believe there should be no such thing as a philosophical or personal belief exemption, since everyone uses public spaces…. As we have learned in the past month, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children not only put their own family at risk, but they also endanger other families who choose to vaccinate.”

Dr. Annie Sparrow, Deputy Director Human Rights and Assistant Professor of Global Health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, highlighted another important consequence of infectious diseases making a global comeback: “measles, long forgotten, is ‘back’ in the United States and far too few doctors know how to recognize it.” Alarmingly, if people go to their doctor or to the hospital when they’re feeling sick and a diagnosis at that early stage is missed, the number of people potentially exposed to the disease could increase exponentially. Many early symptoms of diseases often present themselves in similarly with fever, rash, or both, making a diagnosis difficult. Doctors may also no longer consider some of the formerly common childhood diseases, since they have been generally accepted as eradicated due to vaccine development, and this unintentional oversight could have grave public health consequences.

Vaccination is an extremely effective strategy for preventing infectious diseases. However, this strategy is only successful when the vast majority of individuals are immunized against a particular pathogen in order to offer some protection to individuals who are not medically able to receive the vaccine. When a high percentage of the population is vaccinated, it becomes more difficult for the infectious diseases to spread because there are so few people who could potentially be infected in a concept called community immunity or herd immunity. The people who are unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons include infants, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals. But for those individuals who are healthy enough to get vaccines, but choose not to, why don’t they vaccinate?

The misguided “anti-vaccination movement” began with a paper published by Andrew Wakefield in The Lancet in 1998. The impact of this now-retracted paper still ripples through the scientific community and beyond, to within the general public in the United States. In the paper, the authors alleged that eight children (out of a very small sample size of 12) developed autism and bowel disease shortly after receiving the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. However, the MMR vaccine had been widely used since 1968, which begs the question of why would it take 30 years for this ‘association’ to be made? After numerous researchers continually failed to replicate Dr. Wakefield’s results, the scientific community uncovered that it was a fraudulent study. However, it still took over 10 years for the retraction to be published. Wakefield has since lost his medical license and in 2010 wrote a book disputing the charges against him. He has been described as the “father of anti-vaccine movement.” Because Dr. Wakefield’s fraudulent conclusions continue to be perpetuated by some, the medical community, scientists, and lawmakers must take a united stance to correct the damage done by one paper.

By signing SB277, the Californian government has mandated vaccinations for all school-aged children regardless of their parents’ personal or religious beliefs. Kudos to California, West Virginia, and Mississippi for passing such strict vaccination laws! My hope is that the other 47 states and the District of Columbia will follow suit for the good of us all.

Written by sciencepolicyforall

July 8, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – June 27, 2014

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By: Tara Burke

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Oral Vaccine for Cholera Found Effective in Africa – A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine last month found that two doses of a new oral vaccine, Shanchol, provided 86 percent protection against cholera. Cholera causes diarrhea and dehydration so severe that it can kill. Shanchol is cheaper, packaged in a smaller container and is also easier to administer than the older vaccine, Dukoral. Shanchol, which costs less than $2, was developed with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Donald G. McNeil Jr.)

Researcher Charged in Major HIV Vaccine Fraud Case – Former Iowa State University laboratory manager Dong-Pyou Han had federal charges filed against him after he admitted to falsifying data. This falsification led to million of dollars in AIDS funding with hopes of a breakthrough in AIDS vaccine research. Han faked data that appeared to show promise for an experimental HIV vaccine by spiking samples of rabbit blood with human antibodies. The irregularities of Han’s research were discovered by another laboratory. He could face up to 5 years in prison for making these false statements. Iowa State has agreed to pay back the NIH nearly $500, 000, making up for the cost of Han’s salary. This case is the result of fierce competition to win scarce NIH funding and is a bellwether for desperately needed changes within the peer review funding process that, if not changed, will most likely lead to more and more desperate acts similar or worse than Han’s. (Ryan J. Foley)

U.S., U.K. debate nutrition advice – In an effort to get U.S. and U.K. citizens to eat healthier foods, government-led proposals in both countries are stirring up a lot of debate. In the U.S., The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label on food products. These labels have not been overhauled since 1993 and since then, there have been substantial changes in our understanding of nutrition. While most people agree that changes need to be made, there is little consensus on specifically which changes should be made. However, one of the main topics of discussion is how to inform consumers about added sugars which many nutritional advocates agree is extremely detrimental to the U.S. diet.  In the U.K., a 366-page report was released recommending that the population consume “free sugar” (added sugars and naturally present sugars such as honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices) that’s no more than 5% of their diet. (Jennifer Couzin-Frankel)

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June 27, 2014 at 1:30 pm