Tag Archives: vaccine

There May Be a Cure for Wellness

During my tenure at both British Petroleum and Walmart, I tried various forms of wellness, but to no avail. There were never any savings, participation was low, employees didn’t like it, and administration was complex.

I’ve continued to follow the wellness industry but could never see any genuine success stories. The gratifying news is that I’m not the only one to notice any more. The Los Angeles Times called wellness a scam while Slate just recently called it a sham. And Al Lewis, my co-author on Cracking Health Costs, would say they’re being polite. Most recently, he has noted that the 2016 Koop Award is going to a vendor whose own data shows they made employees unhealthier.

See also: The Yuuuuge Hidden Costs of Wellness  

Speaking of Al Lewis, he has now entered the employee health field directly with Quizzify, which transforms the boring but long-overdue task of educating employees about health, healthcare and their health benefit into an entertaining trivia game. As a colleague and co-author, I have an obvious conflict of interest as I describe my impressions below, so don’t take my word for any of this. Just go play the sample short game right on the website, and ask yourself if you’re learning anything useful, right off the bat. Click here for a link to Quizzify.

Do you think your employees already know this stuff? It’s doubtful. Americans vastly over-consume healthcare; it’s almost free at the point of service once the deductible is satisfied, and they are being bombarded with ads and marketing, as are their doctors. Nothing can solve this massive problem, but Quizzify can help, and is about the only vendor even trying. Backed by doctors at Harvard Medical School and a 100% savings guarantee, Quizzify provides a plethora of shock-and-awe, “counter-detailing” questions-and-answers (with full links to sources) that will educate even the savviest consumers of healthcare and entertain even the dourest CFO. Nexium? Prilosec? Prevacid? You wouldn’t believe the hazards of long-term use. Then there is the sheer waste and possible harm of annual checkups, well-woman visits, PSA tests and so on.

Speaking of hazards, CT scans emit as much as 1,000 times the radiation of an X-ray. Uninformed people are going clinics that will give them a “preventive” CT scan. If a doctor suggested patients have a series of a thousand X-rays for “preventive” reasons, there would be a stampede out of the office.

On the other hand, there are instances where people should go to the doctor but don’t. Swollen ankles? Painless, perhaps, but you may have a circulation problem, possibly a serious one. Blood in your urine, but it goes away before you even make an appointment? That could be a bladder tumor tearing and then re-attaching itself, especially if you smoke. And show me one health risk assessment that correctly advises people over 55 or 60 to get a shingles vaccine if they had chicken pox as a kid.

Then there are the health hazards of everyday life. Those healthy-sounding granola bars are full of sugars cleverly hidden in the ingredients labels. And whoever says vaping is safer that smoking better not be pregnant, because for pregnant moms, incredibly, vaping could be worse for the unborn baby. Just as with the shingles vaccine, chances are your HRA is silent on the texting-while-driving (TWD) issue while obsessing about seat belts, but TWD is by far the more underappreciated hazard.

See also: Wellness Promoters Agree: It Doesn’t Work

Your HRA is probably also silent on the health risks of loneliness, poor spending habits, boredom and most of the other major health risks Robert Woods, PhD, and I describe in our book, An Illustrated Guide to Personal Health. Quizzify has many questions on spending habit, but, if I had one complaint, it would be that (at least in the questions I’ve seen) Quizzify doesn’t address these risks we’ve described in this book.

One of the largest health risks that workers have is being in a job you hate. You won’t see that question on anyone’s HRA either, or in Quizzify. That issue could lead to mass resignations in some pressure cooker companies.

Scores and scores of people have told me they fudge answers on HRAs, anyway. Interestingly, they feel they are on the ethical high ground to do that because of the goofy, nosy and intrusive questions they are asked to answer, e.g., asking about your pregnancy plans in the future. Quizzify, on the other hand, encourages people to cheat. Quizzify wants you to look up the answers because that’s how you learn. So instead of denying human nature, Quizzify channels it.

Conclusion: if you offer old-fashioned wellness, walk, don’t run, to the nearest exit. If you want to look at something that shows huge promise, check out Quizzify.

A Heroin Vaccine — Is It Possible?

Yes, you read that right. A vaccine for heroin.

I first ran across this concept on Twitter last week. I saw a posting from @heroin_research about a heroin vaccine. I was trained by my parents, and through practical experience over the past 55+ years, I’ve learned that if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is. This sounded too good to be true. But, being The @RxProfessor, I had to check it out. And that led to a Saturday conversation with Caron Block.

Caron’s son has been in recovery from heroin for over four years. It has been a long journey. Unlike the new trend in heroin users, his abuse did not start with a legitimately prescribed opioid after an injury or surgery. It started with drinking himself to sleep in 8th grade, then escalation to marijuana, then meth, then cocaine, then heroin. Naloxone literally saved his life multiple times from an overdose death. He has had open-heart surgery for Endocarditis (a heart valve infection very common with heroin users). He was adjudged to be a “use till death” person given the nature of his genetic predisposition to addiction. By all accounts, the fact that he is still alive is a miracle. That he’s on his way this Fall to Columbia University after restarting his education at a community college is astounding. While his battle with addition will last a lifetime, his is a story of victory … achieved every single moment of every single day.

See also: Progress on Opioids — but Now Heroin?  

But Caron knew that her son’s victory was unfortunately not common. She had personal experience with death and devastation among friends and family. Many of his friends (past co-users) have died. And many still use. Rather than preaching to those still suffering from the addiction, he’s trying to lead by example. But it is frustrating. And overwhelming. And so that turned Caron into an evangelist for the work of Kim Janda, Ph.D., the Ely R. Callaway Jr. Professor of Chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), and his pursuit of immunopharmacotherapy. He is really smart, working initially on a cocaine vaccine, then a nicotine vaccine, then a methamphetamine vaccine, and now a heroin vaccine. Note that each drug requires it’s own unique vaccine, so a heroin vaccine will not be an opioid vaccine. But it’s certainly a step in that direction since the heroin vaccine deals with morphine, one of the two metabolites, along with  6-acetylmorphine or 6-AM, that come from heroin, which as a chemical actually only lasts for about 30 seconds in the body.

If you have 47 minutes available, watch this YouTube video titled “Heroin Vaccine and Understanding Addiction with Dr. Kim Janda & Caron Block.” If you only have 5 minutes, a June 28, 2016 article published by Science News entitled “Vaccines could counter addictive opioids” is a detailed accounting of the vaccine. Included is a sobering statistic:

More than 60 percent of people with addiction experience relapse within the first year after they are discharged from treatment

In essence, the heroin vaccine “trains the immune system to usher the drugs out of the body before they can reach the brain.” Just like how all vaccines work, it creates antibodies and turns the immune system into the front-line defense. In this case, it keeps heroin away from the brain. The “active vaccination” is primarily to help people get through rehab/detox or to stay clean afterwards (even if they relapse, the vaccine has made heroin an enemy of the body and they can’t get the reward effects of the drug). Importantly, the vaccine is only valuable to those who desire to defeat their addiction, so vaccine recipients would need to be carefully vetted. The expectation is three to four boosts would be needed every two weeks to build up the antibodies that could last for several months. For more details, please read the Science News article.

According to a January 2015 TIME magazine article

In 2013, preclinical trials of the drug on heroin-addicted rats showed those vaccinated didn’t relapse into addiction and were not hooked by high amounts of heroin in their system. “It’s really dramatic,” says Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) who was involved in the heroin vaccine research. “You can inject a rat with 10 times the dose of heroin that a normal rat [could handle] and they just look at you like nothing happened. It’s extraordinary.

In 2015 TSRI and Dr. Janda received a $1.6M grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), with the potential of three additional years of funding, to support pre-clinical trials of the heroin vaccine. That is really good news. TSRI has a very specific plan forward:

  • Pre-clinical meeting with the FDA
  • Production of the vaccine under cGMP
  • Animal toxicity studies (2 species)
  • Efficacy study in another animal model (likely primate)
  • IND filing with the FDA prior to initiating human trials

The corresponding bad news is that a lot more money will be required to take it to human trials and ultimately to FDA approval and production. They have estimated a minimum of $10.5M and 3 years to get through Phase II trials, after which they’ll need even more money and time for Phase III trials, NDA application, FDA review and approval. There are a lot of financial headwinds for a variety of reasons (if you consider a heroin vaccine reducing demand, you can probably speculate on who might not be supportive). Caron is doing her part with a Facebook page and the aforementioned@heroin_research on Twitter.

Dr. Janda believes that addiction is perceived to be a moral failing (of the individual or society as a whole) where it should be seen as a brain disease. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of NIDA, believes in “treating addiction like a disease that needs to be managed, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, with a multiplicity of treatment options would help addicts find a treatment that works well for them over the long haul.” That stigma certainly doesn’t help fundraising.

See also: Opioids Are the Opiates of the Masses  

I’m an ALL OF THE ABOVE kind of person. For any complex multi-dimensional issue, there is no single solution. We need Medication Assisted Treatment. And greater access to substance abuse and mental illness treatment facilitated by the series of bills recently signed into law (“What will $180 Million Buy Us?“). And the use of PDMPs to identify prescription drug abuse/misuse. And the trending yet controversial “safe spaces” for heroin users to be guaranteed clean needles and clinical oversight (and, hopefully at some point, a recognition for the need to change). And any number of other initiatives around the country focused to combat the dual epidemics of painkiller and heroin abuse.

At this point, I’m a believer that this is not “too good to be true.” But it might not ever be one of the solutions available without other evangelists and dollars to fund the research to validate whether this really works on people.

Are you willing to be an evangelist? Do you know somebody who would be willing to be an evangelist? Do you have access to research dollars? If the answer to any of those questions is “yes”, let me know. Or contact Caron (@heroin_research). Or contact Christopher Lee (clee@scripps.edu) at TSRI. It would be yet another tragedy for this vaccine to hit a dead-end because of funding. If it truly does work, this should be one of the biggest no-brainers in our lifetime.

‘Un-Healthcare’ Work Deserves Focus

Some, like me, who have dedicated their lives to the maintenance and improvement of physical and mental health, may not consider themselves traditional, clinical “healthcare workers.” We may feel as if we work on the fringe, on the outside. We are not nurses or physicians. We work in public health, wellness, nutrition, occupational safety, health economics, fitness, risk management, pharmacy, laboratory, research, insurance and other similar non-traditional clinical professions. We may feel we make a lesser impact on patient care and overall community wellness and vitality. Given historical reference, however, this is absolutely untrue.

The term “healthcare” (whether one word or two) has not been used at all in books, papers, references or published text over hundreds of years, until the mid-1980s. But since the late 1700s, those of us “living on the fringes” have been healthcare workers in the true sense of the practice.

We may not provide bedside patient care in a healthcare or hospital setting, but we do:

  • Prevent infectious disease by promoting the use of vaccines;
  • Protect the public from pathogenic organisms through water and food sanitation;
  • Prevent addiction and antibiotic resistance through pharmaceutical stewardship;
  • Manage repercussions from post-traumatic stress with mental health interventions;
  • Research global disease trends to stop them in their tracks;
  • Manage risk by improving safety, security and improving quality;
  • Decrease work-related injury and illness by creating safe workplaces, and
  • Prevent heart disease and weight-related cancers by promoting regular exercise.

Those efforts ensure that a population’s health (both physical and mental) does not suffer, that it is either maintained or, better yet, improved. We are the “Un-Healthcare Workers.”

It is especially important that traditional healthcare organizations and healthcare workers know this now. As healthcare systems around the world are caring for patients with emerging infectious diseases like Ebola and re-emerging vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, they need to consider that we un-healthcare workers have responsibility for protecting our communities. If we can prevent diseases from becoming epidemic in our communities, healthcare providers working in healthcare settings like hospitals can focus more on providing needed care to those with emergent injuries and chronic disease.

The American Public Health Association (APHA), which has represented people protecting the public since 1872, announced a policy in November on preventing Ebola and “globally emerging infectious disease threats” that marked a significant change in the recognition of the “un-healthcare worker.” The APHA identified the need to focus efforts on preventing infectious disease in the community and workplaces as a means to protect healthcare systems from exposure to diseases that may change the overall landscape of inpatient care. In the process, the APHA advocates for the role that we “un-healthcare workers” have in maintaining and improving the physical and mental health of our population so that healthcare workers can focus on medical interventions for those who really need it.

Sound, science-based public policy and fiscally grounded public health funding can do what it did for the hundreds of years prior to the mid-1980s; it can protect our communities from disease, so that we can protect the vitality of our healthcare systems.

To Be or Not to Be (Vaccinated)?

For many years, Americans did not need to worry about contracting the once-widespread disease called the measles. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially declared measles eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. In January 2015 alone, there were already more confirmed cases in the U.S. than are typically diagnosed in a full year. Public health officials are very concerned and have moved to aggressively contain this very contagious, but 100% preventable, disease. The current outbreak and surge in confirmed cases of measles, most notably in California, has been scientifically linked by researchers from MIT and Boston’s Children Hospital to the outbreak that began in Disneyland in December 2014. Medical researchers believe the spread of the current measles outbreak is solely because of low vaccination rates in certain communities based on a widespread but false link between childhood immunizations and autism. International health officials have called the link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism “the most damaging public health hoax in the past 100 years.”

Just last week on April 21, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released the findings of a comprehensive study using the health insurance data base of 95,000 children and found no overall link between autism and the MMR vaccine. The study also found no link for children with an autistic sibling. The study did find a lower vaccination rate for the younger siblings of children with autism based on parents’ continued fears of a link. The JAMA study authors from the Lewin Group in Falls Church, Va., stated; “Consistent with studies in other populations, we observed no association between MMR vaccine and increased ASD (autism spectrum disorder) risk among privately insured children.”

Despite the overwhelming medical evidence that the MMR vaccine is both very safe and highly effective, anti-vaccination groups still dispute the facts and are warning parents not to be pressured into having their children vaccinated, which is the crux of this public health problem. On the same day that the JAMA study was released, CBS Evening News ran a segment on the current U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, or “America’s Doctor,” who appeared on Sesame Street to promote childhood vaccinations. CBS closed the segment with; “Vaccination critics don’t see anything cute about this video after the controversy over the recent measles outbreak.” Really? There is no controversy. It was all based on a documented hoax.

The original belief that vaccinations cause autism was based on a reported study in 1988 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in the U.K., which has since been 100% completely discredited. His report unnecessarily panicked many parents around the world, causing a sharp decline in the number of children getting the MMR vaccine. The false claims and widespread panic began when a British medical journal, the Lancet, published Wakefield’s article. It was later determined that the author had multiple conflicts of interest, had manipulated evidence and had broken ethical research codes of conduct, including accepting funding by attorneys involved in lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers. The Lancet fully retracted the article, but not until 2010, when the editor-in-chief stated that the link was “totally false” and that the world-famous medical journal was “deceived.” The Canadian Medical Journal in 2010 went on to state that the original research included a “callous disregard” for the “carefully selected” study group of only 12 children and that “several elements of this research were incorrect and contrary to findings of an earlier investigation.” Dr. Wakefield subsequently lost his license to practice medicine in the U.K as a result of this fraudulent research.

These are the facts that parents need to know about the measles. Symptoms typically begin with a high fever, runny nose, sore throat and cough, which can easily be misdiagnosed as a simple cold or the flu. The incubation period is between seven and 18 days of exposure to the virus. It is very dangerous because people are contagious up to four days before the red rash appears and likely do not know they are infected. In addition, a room can still be contaminated as long as two hours after an infected person leaves. A single infected person can spread the disease to between 11 and 18 people. An unvaccinated person has a 90% chance of infection if exposed to the virus. The risk of serious complications and death is even greater for adults and infants than for children and teenagers. Rubella, known as the German measles, is also caused by the virus and is usually a mild form of the disease but is a very serious infection that causes miscarriages, still births or birth defects in unborn children when pregnant women get the disease.

Most people born prior to 1957 had the measles. The disease was once so prevalent that in New York City, in the first 10 weeks of 1933 alone, there were 10,000 cases and 434 deaths. The first vaccines developed began in 1958 and became widely available in 1963. Prior to 1963, there were three to four million cases of measles reported each year in the U.S., with 400 to 500 reported deaths annually.

Although many parents in the anti-vaccination movement believe the measles is not dangerous and the MMR vaccine is, the medical facts state otherwise. In fact, from 2001 to 2013, 28% of children in the U.S. with the measles had to be hospitalized. Public health officials fear that many more cases will develop from this outbreak of a very preventable disease, unless aggressive public health measures are undertaken. What is required is an extensive education campaign including widespread vaccination of the unvaccinated U.S. population, starting with infants at 12 months and a booster shot at age four to six, prior to pre-school or kindergarten. Unvaccinated adults also need to be vaccinated.

There are a number of myths associated with the measles vaccination that keep some parents from protecting their children. The controversy surrounding the anti-vaccination movement is based largely on parents’ philosophical beliefs against the vaccination. Dr. James Cherry, a pediatric infectious disease expert at UCLA, believes that the recent outbreak in California is “100% connected to the anti-immunization campaign.” He went on the say that there are “some pretty dumb people out there.”

Medical researchers from MIT and Boston Children’s Hospital documented that the rapid spread of measles from the Disneyland outbreak, beginning in mid-December 2014, indicated a significant percentage of the population exposed had low vaccination rates. These researchers determined that the exposed population rate might have been as low as 50% and likely no higher than 86%. These rates are well below the 96%-99% level known as “herd immunity,” which is required to prevent future outbreaks.

The anti-vaccination movement includes those parents who believe that there is no medical risk from not vaccinating their child, that the disease is extinct, that doctors and drug companies push vaccinations for their own profit, and that you can get the measles from the vaccination. Still others believe the false and discredited link to autism. For the parents who are against vaccination, they not only put their own children at risk, they dramatically increase the risk for the general population who are unable to get the vaccination, such as infants under the age of one, and children and adults with weak immune systems, including people with cancer and other diseases.

Measles is still widespread throughout the world. Travelers from overseas continue to bring the disease into the U.S on a daily basis. The anti-vaccination conspiracy movement belief that doctors and insurance companies promote the vaccination to increase profit is absurd and is negated by the fact that health insurance companies pay for the vaccinations at no cost to the patient. Similar to the flu shot that is a dead virus from which someone cannot get the flu, it is almost impossible to get the measles from the MMR vaccine.

The CDC states there is a 1 in 3,000 chance of a mild allergic reaction to the MMR vaccine but a 90% chance of infection if an unvaccinated child is exposed to the virus. Parents should do the math. In addition, a blood product containing an immune globulin is available for people who are medically unable to immunize with the MMR vaccine for any reason.

What parents need to know is that the scientific community has found no evidence whatsoever of a link between MMR vaccine and autism or any other childhood development disorder. In addition to the just-released JAMA study, large epidemiological studies conducted by the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.K. National Health Services all found no link between MMR and autism. This original false research has done significant damage to the field of public health and has done serious harm to children of parents who were misled by this report, which resulted in unnecessary deaths, severe impairment and permanent injury in unvaccinated children. Because of wide dissemination of this discredited link, there were many lawsuits by parents with children with autism, but a special court convened by the National Vaccination Injury Compensation program denied all compensation claims in U.S. federal court against manufacturers of the vaccine in 2009.

The recent measles outbreak in California is what has spiked the “controversy” over vaccinations, which has made the national news in 2015 including; CNN, the New York Times and Time Magazine. There have been 178 documented new cases of the measles by late March by the CDC, including five unvaccinated Disneyland workers in Orange County, and the outbreak is now spreading across the U.S.

Although traditional public health issues are typically rooted in poor or rural areas of the country, this current measles outbreak is concentrated in wealthy neighborhoods in California and surrounding states. Although it is reported that only 3.1% of parents in California refuse to vaccinate their children, for health or religious reasons, this number is misleading. In fact, many areas within California have double-digit exemption rates from vaccinations, with some areas as high as 50%.

The MMR vaccination is the best way to prevent disease both for the individual and the general population. It works by making the body produce anti-bodies against the virus. The measles vaccination is recommended for all people 12 months of age or older, and especially people traveling overseas. MMR vaccinations are supported by the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mayo Clinic, to name just a few.

An extensive education campaign is required to overcome false and unfounded fears among parents of unvaccinated children. Legislation is needed to strengthen immunization laws requiring all school-age children to receive the measles vaccination, except for those with a medical exemption certified by a licensed physician. Public health officials should also track and verify both statewide and local immunization rates and should mandate that schools maintain an up-to-date list of pupils with exemptions so they can be excluded quickly if an outbreak occurs, temporarily exclude unvaccinated students and teachers from attending school and offer measles vaccinations for unvaccinated students and teachers.

The MMR vaccine is 99% effective and provides immunity for a lifetime. It was once considered one of the major public health campaign success stories. Now, health officials fear the potential for a public health crisis based on blatantly false research and unfounded fears. The CDC points out that people who refuse to vaccinate usually live in the same community. “When measles find its way into these communities, outbreaks are more likely to occur.” Consumers and parents should confirm with their doctor that they or their children do not have any allergic reactions to other medications. They should also verify that they do not have an immune deficiency condition, which may cause side effects and decrease the vaccine’s usefulness.

The myth that childhood vaccinations lead to autism was based largely on a completely discredited medical research hoax. This myth is still being widely perpetuated today not only by the anti-vaccination conspiracy movement led by Hollywood celebrities but also by the mainstream media.

My heart breaks for the parents of children with autism, including a close family friend. But it breaks my heart even more knowing that thousands of children are unnecessarily exposed to unimaginable consequences of birth defects and death from something so preventable. Parents need to listen to the Surgeon General, the CDC, the Mayo Clinic and the American Academy of Pediatrics and not Hollywood celebrities with zero background in public health.

I would like to thank my research assistant and co-author Ms. Chandler Berke who is a public health/science undergraduate student at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.