ignorance of basic science isn’t a virtue

I’d intended to write a post about science literacy (& its lack). And I still will.

But first, I’m going to address the claims made by a commenter on a post that shared advice and commentary by the Samoan ombudsman. (Yes, a post related to that country’s measles epidemic.)

Why? Because it demonstrates what we get when people aren’t particularly science-literate and yet have the gall to claim that they’ve “done their research”, when clearly all they’ve done is share a copypasta screed of words. A screed that’s intended to mislead and generate fear, and which is based in some pretty solid chemophobia. And it needs rebutting. (I apologise in advance for the length of the post: it’s pretty much a truism that it takes far more effort to rebut material like this than the original commenter took to post it.)

Remember, “mcg” stands for micrograms – millionths of a gram. Whoever wrote the original screed has added up all the amounts of each substance that could be delivered over 6 years – thereby managing to make the numbers as big as possible. Obviously for any one vaccine the amounts delivered would be much less.

So, here we go (the material I’m discussing is pasted at the bottom of this post):

  • 2-phenoxyethanol (present in some vaccines as a stabiliser) – this is not, as claimed by our commenter, antifreeze. So that’s lie #1.
  • aluminium – but not the metal (as implied by BM): what is found in some vaccines is an aluminium salt (a compound). It’s used to heighten the immune response to the antigens it’s associated with by holding them at the injection site for as long as possible, which reduces the amount of antigen needed in the vaccine. Only about 17% of the injected aluminium compound actually enters the bloodstream. Just like aluminium compounds absorbed across the gut wall, the rest is excreted. (See also here, on dosages from diet & from vaccination.) There is no aluminium adjuvant in the MMR vaccine.
  • foetal bovine serum – this isn’t whole blood as implied by BM, though it’s derived from blood. It is used to provide nutrients to the cells in which some viruses are grown. Any that remains would be measured in nanograms (if it’s present at all in the final product), because the growth media are essentially removed as the vaccine is processed and purified. (So, while “unknown amounts” might sound scary, it shouldn’t.)
  • formaldehyde – while it is used at much much greater concentrations in a range of applications, formaldehyde (aka formalin) is used as a preservative in some vaccines. It’s also a product of normal cellular metabolism. It’s generated in pretty much every cell in your body, every single day – in amounts that swamp the tiny quantities that might be found in a vaccine. (There’s no formalin in MMR – you would not use a preservative with a live attentuated vaccine. For the same reason, the MMR vaccine has never contained that antivax bogeyman, thimerosal).
  • gelatin – BM would have us believe that this is essentially “ground up animal carcasses”. It’s not. It’s produced by boiling skin, hooves, and connective tissue, and acts as a stabiliser.  While it’s present in some vaccines, there’s a low risk – 1 in 2 million doses – of an anaphylactic reaction in people allergic to gelatin in foods.
  • human albumin – is not the same as human blood. BM, you are embarassing yourself. Human albumin is a protein found in human blood serum. It’s purified before use to remove even the possibility of virus transmission, & is present in some vaccines (including MMR) as a stabiliser.
  • monosodium glutamate – present in a few vaccines as a stabiliser to ensure the active components aren’t affected by heat, light, acidity, or humidity. NB glutamate is an amino acid, which is involved in cellular metabolism & in transmitting nerve impulses. The microgram amounts found in those few vaccines are tens of thousands of times less than the safe, daily intake of MSG. In other words, BM, I very much doubt the implication in your copypasta that MSG in vaccines will cause obesity!
  • unknown amounts of foetal cells – well, just, no. MRC-5 are human diploid cells from an immortal cell line, originally derived from a foetus that was electively aborted back in the 1960s, and they’re used as a growth medium for some vaccines. These cells are emphatically not “aborted human babies”. There may be some fragmentary DNA molecules present; there may be some protein molecules present. But no more than that. (I’m losing track of the number of lies and misdirections here, tbh.)
  • neomycin, streptomycin & polymixin – these are all antibiotics – and note, again, the tiny quantities overall. “[The] possibility that the trace quantities of antibiotics contained in vaccines cause severe allergic reactions remains, at best, theoretical.” Why are they there? To prevent bacterial contamination during the manufacturing process. Because it would be a Very Bad Thing if that were to happen.
  • polysorbate is found in some vaccines, in tiny amounts: according to BM’s source, 560 mcg over 6 years. Remember, that’s 560 millionths of a gram. The LD50 dose is far higher, at around 10g/kg, and you’ll find some interesting maths about this here. Polysorbate is also used as an emulsifier in many foods, including icecream.
  • potassium chloride, potassium phosphate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride, sodium hydroxide, sodium citrate – there’s quite a list there, with a whole bunch of scary-sounding things attributed to them. BM, and whoever generated the list in the first place, really could do with a few first-year chemistry & biology classes, because then they’d learn about the roles of these things in their bodies.
    Potassium phosphate is found in the body; it may also be used to treat people with low levels of phosphate. As a drug it has contraindications, but again, the dose is important, and the amount summed across all vaccines is tiny. (BM’s screed calls it a liquid fertiliser agent, presumably for the scariness quotient.)
    The others in that list are involved in normal tissue metabolism, including the maintenance of an electrical potential difference across cell membranes (your cells won’t work without it) and the generation of nerve impulses. The few tens of micrograms in any given vaccine are swamped by the amount normally found in your body: someone weighing 50kg will have about 200g of sodium chloride in their tissues, for example.
  • sodium phosphate (& BM’s ‘sodium phosphate monobasic monohydrate’) is used as a pH buffer (presumably why it’s present in trace amounts in some vaccines), and is also found in baking powders and some foods. Clearly it is not “toxic to any organism” at the concentrations used in those and other applications, and the quantities in any single vaccine are well below what’s known to cause harm in humans.
  • and sodium borate, which yes, at high concentrations can kill cockroaches, and rats. How high? The LD50 for borate – the dose that will kill 50% of animals eating it – is 3-5g/kg in adult rats. Extrapolating from that, a 50kg human would need to ingest at least 150g of sodium borate for it to be lethal. How much is accrued across the vaccine schedule, according to BM’s source? 70 millionths of a gram
  • sorbitol is present in a couple of vaccines as a stabilising agent. But it can be produced in our cells , and is found in some foods.
  • urea – biologically speaking, urea is an excretory product, made in your liver cells to safely excrete the nitrogenous wastes produced when proteins are broken down. It’s circulating in your blood at measurable levels, while on its way to the kidneys – levels that significantly exceed that in any vaccine. Oh, and despite the implication in BM’s list, the urea used in vaccines doesn’t come from human urine.
  • cane sugar? BM, are you really worried about kids receiving less than a gram of sucrose via vaccines over 6 years of life, compared to their dietary intake (which pretty much goes straight into the bloodstream once it hits the small intestine)?
  • and yeast proteins – some vaccines are grown in yeast (as in, baker’s yeast) cells, which are removed during processing. Some residual proteins may remain in the vaccine, but there doesn’t appear to be evidence that they cause harm.

tl;dr – pretty much anything said in the screenshot below is either an outright untruth, or an effort at some serious misdirection. BM, you really, really need to learn some first-year biology & chemistry.


3 thoughts on “ignorance of basic science isn’t a virtue”

  • MRC-5 are human diploid cells from an immortal cell line, originally derived from a foetus that was electively aborted back in the 1960

    If cells that once were part of a foetus and since then have divided many dozens of times are “fetal cells”, then I am a foetus, as are you, and so is the entertaining Faceborg informant.

    • To be pedantic, I don’t think that the MRC-5 cells have been immortalised (i.e. by transfection with a virus). They’re normal fibroblasts. They’re only around today because a stockpile of cells have been deep-frozen, and every so often a test-tube is thawed out and the contents are tissue-cultured through many more subdivisions, then infected with whatever virus is needed for antigens.

  • Still not aborted babies, though!

    I see BM is unrepentant. According to her formaldehyde, being embalming fluid & all! – justbdoesnt belong in our bodies. Clearly cellular metabolism has yet to receive this message.

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