Technology, Vaccines, and Children

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When you are a parent, your children bring you into contact with all sorts of people. This results in a plethora of strange experiences, ranging from positive to negative. At a park yesterday, to give an example, my children had set up a lemonade stand. Not many customers had bought any, nor would the business venture take off at any time that day, but at one point a man of twenty something years approached on a hover board, and inquired what was the cause for which we were raising money, not that he had any to give. Like many would be lemonade drinkers, he came to the park not specifically to drink lemonade. In any case, we explained that there was no cause. The kids were just trying out a business. After a few laps around the park, he returned to strike up a conversation.

“So have you read about the AI vaccine?” he asked, referring to artificial intelligence (AI) in connection with vaccines, although he was not clear about the context. He then remarked that he liked to talk with parents about such issues. In actuality, this past October, I authored an article for physician readers in Medscape discussing AI, machine learning (ML) and other computational technologies featuring commentary from AI expert Lorien Pratt, PhD, chief scientist at the California-based Quantellia LLC. In this story, one point involved how AI looks promising for improving the delivery and availability of vaccines in areas of pandemic infectious diseases around the planet. This is wonderful, but an even newer vaccine innovation comes out of Australia, where researchers have utilized AI in the development of a new influenza vaccine. It is a fantastic development, because influenza viruses evolve especially rapidly, so it is always a race between the disease and vaccine development. That’s why you need a new flu vaccine every year, rather than needing just one with a few boosters to get you through life. It is also why the effectiveness of flu vaccines varies from season to season and often is quite low (which is not a reason not to get immunized).

The news from Australia is a positive development, but it wasn’t until I read about it at night that I realized that this was the story that had sparked the interest of the man in the park. In any case, after hearing that I had not read about “the vaccines with AI”, he proceeded into monologue of Talmudic proportions. This culminated with a rant from him about the MMR vaccine and the preservative thimerosal. This is a preservative that has been used in certain vaccines, and if you have concerns, here is some information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that will reassure you that there is no danger. You may also want to read the article Myths and Facts About Vaccines for Pregnant Women and Babies published in The Pulse.

The real danger comes from people who misconstrue and spread misinformation, such as the kind of information that confuses people like the man that we met in the park. But the moment was also filled with irony. What has concerned people about thimerosal is a preservative that contains mercury, a heavy metal. And here was an antivaxer, activist to the point of approaching parents in the park to “warn” them about vaccines and thimerosal, and guess what; his arms were covered in tattoos. I am not opposed to tattoos. It is a personal choice for adults, but the glaring irony is that tattoo pigments and dyes contain heavy metals –in quantities orders of magnitude higher than the quantity of heavy metal in any vaccine, especially in a person who has a lot of tattoos.

I did not have the conversation with the guy about the irony, since it was clear that he was an extremist who believed that there is government conspiracy involving vaccines. Since he went on and on and would not leave, I did interject a comment or two about the high levels of childhood mortality that existed in the early 20th century due to a range of infectious diseases that we now prevent through vaccination, and how recent outbreaks of measles –a potentially deadly disease– have occurred in in direct response to the anti-vaccine cult –and it certainly is a cult–discouraging parents into refusing one of the most effective disease prevention measures ever devised. But you cannot change the mind of somebody who is that extreme, and to give you an idea of just how extreme, at the end of the discussion, he brought up Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a notorious leader of the antivax movement. I pointed out that, all the other members of the Kennedy family have said that they love Robert, but that he is crazy when it comes to vaccines, that he is utterly misguided. This led the man to say that I must be part of the government conspiracy and that I don’t read, and by this time it also was clear just how much he had misunderstood the story about vaccines and AI. Apparently, when he read a story about “making vaccines with AI”, he got the idea that it meant that the vaccines contained AI, that they are intelligent vaccines that somehow get into the human brain for some purpose of government or industry control of the population.

Fortunately, for parents and children alike, there is good, accurate information about vaccines from the CDC and other scientific organizations. Soon, the reliable sites will explain clearly that they are indeed making vaccines with AI, using AI to make better vaccines. We also have information and links here at Pregistry that you can read (such as this one), plus you can talk with your obstetrician, pediatrician, and your own primary care internist, or family physician.

David Warmflash
Dr. David Warmflash is a science communicator and physician with a research background in astrobiology and space medicine. He has completed research fellowships at NASA Johnson Space Center, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brandeis University. Since 2002, he has been collaborating with The Planetary Society on experiments helping us to understand the effects of deep space radiation on life forms, and since 2011 has worked nearly full time in medical writing and science journalism. His focus area includes the emergence of new biotechnologies and their impact on biomedicine, public health, and society.

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