Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Unwarranted faith in science

I'm as happy to bash antivaxers as the next guy. But we should not promote childhood vaccination by urging the public to have Faith in Science. Science screws up, often, and the public should know that. Scientists working in biomedical fields, where often they don't have a research Ph.D., and scientists working for the government, are particularly prone to screw up. The Federal Government is a cumbersome bureaucracy within which no one really excels.

Latest instance; the flu vaccine people my age are urged to get doesn't work against the major strains of influenza around this winter. I've heard numbers of 30% effectiveness in the US, though I'm not sure I believe them. In the UK, it's more like 3%. The BBC says, with classic understatement:

This is a poor result
No shit, Sherlock.

The vaccine mix used for the current season was based on a recommendation made by the World Health Organization last February, based on the breakdown of strains in the population of each country even earlier than that. It's a guess at the current flu season, in other words. The FDA appreoved the mix on February 28, 2014. Dozens of generations of flu viruses have lived, multiplied, died, and been subject to natural selection since then. Six companies make the vaccines March through August, before switching to the Southern Hemisphere.

In actual fact, it really only takes a few days to make the vaccine by the conventional route, and less using a recently approved cell-free system. The rest of the delay is regulatory; each batch has to be approved by the FDA. Shipping of some lots began in July.

It is not clear how long the FDA lot approval process takes, but it's clear the entire process is taking too long.

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