As someone currently enduring a bout of shingles I have a few comments to make on the excellent article on the bad science behind the vaccine scare (NZ Skeptic 100). Further to benefits of vaccination mentioned in the article I think the point should be made that viruses can actually be eradicated from humanity which is ironic since they cannot, unlike bacteria, be killed as they are not living entities. Bacteriological diseases on the other hand are treatable and curable but the infectious agents cannot be eradicated.

Of course we are beginning to reach a point where some bacteria are resistant to most, if not all, current antibiotics thanks to misapplication, abuse and ill-informed prescription by doctors who should know better.

The damage done by the originator of the vaccination scare is incalculable. I don’t think being struck off the medical register is enough – I have long held the opinion that anyone earning a degree on the back of research which is later invalidated should be stripped of their degree and in the case of this man I think an apt reward would be the loss of his doctorate and professorship. He has demonstrated an inability to do good research and should not be overseeing students doing theirs.

I further think that vaccination should be done by law and the decision taken out of the hands of well-meaning but deluded parents who don’t realize that they don’t know what they are doing. Vaccination is a public health issue and there is no reason it shouldn’t be mandated in order to prevent children from contracting diseases they need not suffer and as a useful step to eradicating infectious agents. The payback in terms of saving tax expenditure and avoiding misery for children is huge.

I was lucky that my parents saw we were vaccinated against everything for which vaccines had been developed at the time and I am delighted that the common ‘wisdom’ of ‘once you’ve had it you are immune for life’ has been effectively thrown out forever. I well remember my best friend’s mother being crippled as a result of having contracted poliomyelitis in her childhood. It was a tragedy which need never be repeated in this day and age.

And anyone who thinks that talk of eradication is mere cant should think again – look what has happened to smallpox with a bit of directed will and determination. And in case anyone reading this doesn’t know it, the condition I am currently suffering from is caused by the chickenpox virus I contracted over 50 years ago. It has been lying dormant in my nervous system where the body’s immune system cannot get at it. I have so far suffered relatively lightly but a bout of severe nerve pain could ensue. I am not looking forward to the possibility and am hoping for the best but am prepared for the worst.

Malcolm Watts

Placebo effect quantified

It’s not often that we obtain numerical information about the strength of a placebo effect. Thus we should applaud the manufacturers of Voltaren for their webpage hcp/ efficacy.aspx (“Direct route to relief”).

Under a caption “Patients experienced a 51% improvement in [osteoarthritis] knee pain …” is a bar graph that shows both a 51 percent improvement with Voltaren gel and a 39 percent improvement with placebo gel. (Treatment period was 12 weeks.)

Similarly, “a 46% improvement in … hand pain …” turns out to be 47 percent improvement after six weeks of using Voltaren gel versus 40 percent improvement with placebo.

To simple-minded people like me, this sounds like a Voltaren effect of 12 percent for knee pain and 7 percent improvement for hand pain. I’m not knocking Voltaren, which I use myself, but clearly external use of the gel is not necessarily superior to taking this medication by mouth.

To the practitioners of alternative medicine, these results are wonderful. Regardless of treatment, after four to six weeks hand pain will be significantly reduced. Similarly a few months of quack therapy will reduce knee pain by almost half.

Jay D Mann

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