Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Did 007 Ever Use Ricin?

Oh, sweet-mother-of-darkness. I need a pill.

Back in October I blogged about the pending avian flu pandemic, the Spanish flu catastrophe of 1918 and projected, tongue-in-cheek, the following:

“If you pick up any newspaper, turn on any TV news in the next weeks and months, you’ll hear lots of breathless hyperbole about the imminent, unstoppable and deadly flu pandemic that is on the verge of ravaging the Earth. You’ll be told to get your regular flu vaccine, and your avian flu shot, and your anti-terrorist immunizations, and then you’ll willingly ask for antidepressants, and anti-panic pills, and high blood pressure medication because the world is such a scary place to live these days.”
And today, what lands in my inbox, but news from the New York Times that the first clinical trial for the ricin vaccine has proven to be safe and effective.

Ricin. Heard of it? I never had before this morning, but now that I know about it I’m afraid. Very afraid.

Ricin is the castor bean by-product left by the production of castor oil. (not so scary yet)

Ricin is easy to make. (still not worried)

Ricin is highly toxic. (okay, so I won’t start producing castor oil in my basement)

Ricin can be made into a powder and aerosolized. (I thought aerosol cans were banned…)

Ricin is the spy-master’s favourite poison. Let me say that again, “Ricin is the spy-master’s favourite poison.” (better stop picking up spies at my local pub)

The scary thoughts are tumbling about in my head.

First, how many spies are there in my neighbourhood? There must be lots if some corporation has determined it’s in their financial interest to develop a vaccine against the spy-master’s favourite poison. I mean, if there weren’t a good number of spy masters roaming about then there wouldn’t be much of a market for the anti-ricin vaccine, and without a substantial market, there would be no profit for the company that’s invested in the R&D. Conclusion: there must be a lot folks skulking about with castor bean stains on their finger-tips. That makes me uncomfortable.

Did you know that in a famous incident, Bulgarian exile Georgi Markov was fatally attacked in London in 1978 with an umbrella-like weapon that injected him with ricin? (It’s true. I read it on a website). And I live in Vancouver, where we had 29 days of rain this January. I see hundreds of umbrellas every day…strangers’ umbrellas actually touch me on the bus…I’m simply not riding at rush-hour anymore.

Second scary thought: GWB has managed another assault on the American public’s right to choice. Using his executive powers he has the right to force every single solitary American citizen to submit to anti-terrorist vaccines if he feels the need. (Actually, that may only be American citizens living on American soil…and soldiers, of course. I may be exempt from that law based on my Canadian residency. Then again, with our new Prime Minister being a GWB-Mini-Me-Wanna-Be, if Bushie says it’s a good idea, my guess is that Stephie will jump in the little red wagon and get shots for us, too.)

Third scary thought: Tomorrow I turn forty and I have a crush on a man. My 9-year old and I are having peer-to-peer conversations about the anxiety caused by this state of mind/heart/being. That is way too scary, but not a topic for this blog…not today, anyway.

As for the info I promised yesterday...still waiting for the document.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Aluminun adjuvants under the microscope

Today was one of those days that I will long remember. A day that I expect I’ll look back on in one year, five years, ten years and smile, “that was the day my life work got the traction it needed.”

My life work, the work I feel compelled to do or die trying to get done, is to produce a documentary film about the lies we're told about childhood vaccinations. A film written for parents who have, for a hundred years, been coerced and tricked and lied to about the “proven safety” of the shots that, we’re told, our children need to be healthy. A film that will challenge the sacred cow of childhood vaccinations. (“If you love your child, vaccinate, on-time, every time!”)

Today, I finally received the proof that every broadcaster has demanded of me before they will agree to provide Vaccine Nation with a license (in Canada, that’s the trigger to access support from all the different film funding pots): proof that vaccines are not as safe as the manufacturers and government assert they are.

The very first statistically significant testing has been completed on the safety of aluminum adjuvants* used in vaccines. Yes, the very first safety research ever in the history of vaccines. (Well, the very first ever that researchers could find. Studies with unhappy results may have been undertaken by vaccine-makers but if they ever were they have been destroyed or well-hidden, since there is no record of any research anywhere.)

The study is yet to be published (in the journal Lancet Neurology), but by tomorrow I will have the pre-press copy. I spoke to the lead researcher for an hour today and he regaled me with his story and findings.

I didn’t take notes. So I’ll wait until tomorrow to post what he found. But, if you happen to have an appointment tomorrow to get your child vaccinated with the DTaP or DTP, hepatitis A or B, pneumococcal 7 vaccines, or to get an anthrax shot yourself…call and postpone – just for a day or two.

I know if I were a parent, which I am, I’d be glad I did.

* Aluminum compounds have been widely used as human vaccine adjuvants for more than 70 years. The adjuvant helps the disease ingredients in the vaccine do their job more effectively, increasing the efficacy of the vaccine.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Rx for bad medical reporting

My fabulous colleague Alan Cassels (co-author of Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning us all into Patients and the “star” of my documentary Little Boy Blue) and I recently launched a website: MediaDoctor.ca (with the support of the Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society and funding from Industry Canada).

Media Doctor is a website dedicated to improving the accuracy of media reports about new medical treatments, based on the Australian Media Doctor project that launched a year earlier than ours.

Our Media Doctor team reviews current news items about medical treatments, assesses their quality using a standardised rating scale and presents reviews of good and bad examples of reports on this website. We anticipate that these independent and objective critiques will improve journalistic practices in reporting new medications and treatments in Canada.

Feedback from some of the health editors and journalists we’ve spoken to is affirming that this kind star-rating will have an impact on how reporters approach their stories, how much effort they put into reading beyond industry-issued press releases, and how much they hype new drugs. One reporter was comical in his response to my “heads-up, we’re rating your work” phone call, moaning, “No, no, no, no, no you can’t give my stories a star rating. That’s not fair.”

Well, given that the vast majority of health consumers, otherwise known as patients, otherwise known as the public, get our knowledge about health and medical matters from the media, not from health-care providers, I believe applying a star rating to those stories is perfectly fair.

For instance, imagine you’re a woman who comes from a family that has a history of breast cancer. You read the article at CTV.ca that suggests that drinking 6 cups of coffee a day may lower some breast cancer risks. Sounds good. Easy enough to make the extra trips to Starbucks every day…so you double your latte intake based on the hope presented in this article. Maybe it’s a good idea, maybe not. Find out what the Media Doctor reviewers had to say about this 2 star article.

Be sure to check out some of the other articles our team has reviewed. Post a comment. And sign up to receive a notice each time we post a new review.

(And to my American readers, watch for your very own stars and stripes Media Doctor website, coming in February, 2006).

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Back in the game and feeling fine!

Over three months since my last post. Where did the time go?! Sure hope all my old, regular supporters and detractors are still around to keep me in line…

News from the Shattering Rose-Coloured Glasses home front:

I am adjusting very nicely, thank you, to being single after what was a fine marriage. I wish the father of my child all the best with his new relationship. Everyone deserves to be happy.

I was offered yet another broadcast license for my documentary about childhood vaccinations…and yet again, weeks after the offer was made it was retracted. “Too risky.” So – the new idea is to write the book and then make the film. I have a co-author who is already a published, best-selling medical/health writer. We have a major publisher pushing for a first draft. Vaccine Nation will happen. 2006 will be the year. It’s only been ten years since I started this project…

I’ve been working back in the office of my old employer. A place I swore I’d never go back to. Alas, I’m happy with this change. I’m working on wonderful campaigns with lovely clients and will soon be traveling to Sri Lanka for three weeks to work with peace and reconciliation non-government organizations.

Life is good. Piss and vinegar is back in my blood. Let the ass-kicking of big pharma start again…