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January 10, 2018

Focus: Current Issues
Attendance: 347

Non-specific Effects of Childhood Vaccines:
How Much Fire, How Much Smoke?


Arthur L Reingold, MD

University of California, Berkeley

Dear Vacciners,
As we all know, everything from Fast Food to Automobiles to Guns can have consequences for people with access to them that can range from the desirable (Jobs! Increased Mobility! Opportunities to wear Blaze Orange!) to the deeply undesirable (Obesity! Accidental Death! More Accidental Death!!).

So pretty much across the board, the consequences of actions can be planned ... and not.

For example, when the state of Kansas first moved to expand liquor licenses to grocery and convenience stores they were specifically intending to create new revenue streams that would allow small stores to remain financially viable in the face of competition from the growing number of 'big box' stores.

But a review of the effects of the proposed bill by the Kansas Health Institute showed that the new law would probably also lead to increases in domestic child abuse, violence, STDs, and alcohol-related traffic accidents caused by young drivers.

The bill ended up dying in committee but, if it hadn't, the injection of retail alcohol into Kansas grocery and convenience stores could have had effects that were both specific to the target of the law (fewer stores go out of business) AND "non-specific" – i.e. ripple effects -- for the greater community (more people become the victims of crime, disease, and violence).

So what about vaccines? We all know that they have oodles of beneficial effects that are specific to the diseases they target but do they ever have NON-SPECIFIC effects as well? And, if so, are the non-specific effects always Bad?

Spoiler alert ...
Yes they might and no they aren't.

For example, there is intriguing evidence that using BCG vaccine to immunize babies in West Africa against Tuberculosis ALSO reduces death from sepsis and respiratory infections as well as making the babies generally healthier to the tune of cutting overall child mortality by a whole heaping heck of a lot. How is THAT for a vaccine with a cherry on top?

But ...

Both the studies of, and the findings from, research on the non-specific effects of vaccines have been controversial. HIGHLY controversial.

Is it the non-specific effects of BCG vaccine that are reducing infant mortality or is it something else? Does DPT vaccine cause harmful non-specific effects or doesn't it? Is the risk of non-specific effects from vaccines greater for female children than for male children or isn't it? Have flaws in the methodology of studies of non-specific effects of vaccines created a smoke screen that zealots on both sides of the vaccine issue use to project their individual versions of the "Truth?"

Inquiring minds want to know!!

Are you an inquiring mind? Of course you are! So come to the January 10th meeting of the Vaccine Dinner Club and get the spicy low down on non-specific effects of vaccines from Art Reingold.

Register now.

Happy New Year,
-Kimbi Hagen
VDC Director/Goddess



February 7, 2018

Focus: Communication Issues
Attendance: 305

Hiding in Plain Sight:
Considerations for Improving Vaccine Communication


Glen Nowak, PhD

VDC Member-in-Good-Standing
Director, Center for Health & Risk Communication
University of Georgia

Dear Vacciners,
Using words or images to communicate information about vaccines is a practice as old as vaccines themselves.

My personal favorite anti-vaccine image comes from the 17th century and depicts Edward Jenner vaccinating a room full of people, each of whom promptly starts sprouting actual cows all over his or her body.

But this one from the early 1900s is pretty good too – it depicts a "Vaccine Upas Tree" growing in a cemetery bearing the poisoned "fruits of vaccination" and warning that "the root that poisons the young life blood of the nation; it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder."

BTW: using an Upas tree as the icon in that picture was a particularly clever touch because, at that time, it was believed that upas trees exuded a poisonous miasma that would kill anyone who breathed it in. That turns out to be giving the tree too much credit but it's still a pretty lethal bit of herbage -- the crossword addicted among us know that the seeds of upas trees are used to make strychnine and that poison darts are tipped with its sap.

Pro-public health communicators like to use imagery too. In one example from the mid 1900s that feels EXTREMELY timely right now, postcards were disseminated showing little girls using a skipping rhyme to remember how important it is to get a flu shot.

And not to be outdone, the National Child Welfare Association of New York published a poster depicting a young David slaying the Goliath of Tuberculosis simply by standing up straight.

So we've been communicating about vaccine-related stuff for quite a while. It hasn't always gone well.

Just ask the famous Puritan theologian Cotton Mather. In 1721 (75 years before Jenner threatened to make cows sprout from people's foreheads and 30 years after he (Mather) almost singlehandedly sparked the Salem Witch Trials), Rev. Mather publicly urged the people of Boston to be variolated* in an effort to halt a smallpox epidemic that was then raging through the city. Later that day someone tossed a homemade grenade into Rev. Mather's house, setting it on fire. The note attached to the proto-molotov cocktail said: "COTTON MATHER, You Dog, Dam You. I'll inoculate you with this, with a POX to you."

Sometimes it feels like things haven't improved a whole lot since then.

In an era in which VacTruth.com responds to the worst influenza season since the 1990s swine flu epidemic by re-posting a website from 2013 that trumpets: 8 Damn Good Reasons Not to Get the Flu Shot, and then NaturalHealth.com goes one better by republishing and adding some extra reasons of their own (Flu shots contain antibiotics and cause Alzheimer's disease), you have to wonder how, if, we can do this whole communicating thing better.

Their side uses fire bombs and pictures of poison trees and women giving birth to cows, while we rely on little girls skipping rope and slingshots plus the occasional shout of ironic laughter at the fix we are in.


Well, we could try inventing an application that automatically inserts pro-vaccine messages into the middle of random Tweets -- for example, here is a recent (1/27/18) Tweet from @realDonaldTrump that has been filtered through the proposed "PosVac" app …. "Democrats are not interested in Border Safety & Security or in the funding and rebuilding of our Military. They are only interested in Obstruction! And Vaccines! Get vaccinated for the flu NOW!"

Or how about a PosVac-filtered version of the Tweet @SeanHannity posted on 1/26/18 after he got back on Twitter following the second disruption of his account: "I'm baaaccckk from getting vaccinated against Shingles!"

An intriguing idea to be sure.

Barring that, why don't we all agree to start getting better at Vaccine Communication by registering to attend the February 7 meeting of the Vaccine Dinner Club when Glen Nowak will try to lead us out of the wilderness. (The same Glen Nowak, by the way, who was accused -- in Reason #8 of the VacTruth.com website -- of providing the CDC with a Recipe for Generating Fear).

Be there or be misinformed.
your friendly neighborhood Vaccine Dinner Club goddess

* 'Variolation, which was introduced from Africa to North America by Cotton Mather's slave Onesimus, refers to the pre-vaccine practice of conferring protective immunity to severe smallpox by intentionally infecting someone with a mild case. This was done by taking dried smallpox scabs and blowing them up a person's nose (presumably using a straw) or burying them under the skin of the hand or arm, via a cut made for that purpose.



March 7, 2018

Focus: See May 2
Attendance: See May 2


The March 7, 2018 VDC Meeting

starring Dr. Harriet Robinson

has been postponed until May 2nd

Due To Aqua-geddon

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, 3/7/18, a 48" water main* up near the intersection of Buford Highway and I-285 collapsed, briefly turning the highway into a Colorado River wannabe, shutting down vast swaths of the city's transportation infrastructure, and drying up pretty much every single tap in the NE quadrant of Atlanta, including all of them at Emory. Shortly after 5:00pm we received notice that the water main had been replaced and campus was re-opening, albeit under a boil-water advisory.

Many, many thanks to those of who wrote to commiserate about Aqua-geddon, including those who said:

I love this group too and while it is tempting to resume the original plan now that the University is re-opening, just to be able to spend the evening with all of you, that would be really hard to do at this point since we rather efficiently unwound all of the preparations.

So enjoy your evening off, stay well hydrated with boiled water, and I'll see you all in April!


*For comparison purposes, the water main coming from the street into your house is 3/4" wide.



April 4, 2018

Focus: Basic Science
Attendance: 167

"Bug" Repellent:
Using Basic Science to Prevent and Treat Dengue, Zika, and Other Unwanted "Bugs"


David Watkins, PhD

Professor of Pathology and Vice Chair of Research
University of Miami



May 2, 2018 - Combined meeting of the VDC & Mahy Seminar

Focus: Epi, Strategy
Attendance: 356

9th Annual Meeting of the "Mahy Seminar" The Mahy Seminar is an annual lecture featuring the globe's top virologists. It honors the outstanding career of Dr. Brain Mahy and acknowledges his unparallelled role in expanding the field of virology at the CDC and beyond.

From A to Z:
Development of Vaccines from AIDS to Zika
Using a Novel MVA Platform Technology


Harriet L. Robinson, PhD

Charter Member, VDC
Chief Scientific Officer Emeritus, GeoVax

Dear Vacciners,
March 7, which is when this program was SUPPOSED to happen -- but didn't due to AquaGeddon -- was an interesting date in history.

3/7/161 AD: Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius dies and is succeeded, for the first time in history, by TWO Co-Emperors. There is no evidence of Russian meddling in the election. Possibly because Russia hasn't been invented yet.

3/7/1530: Henry the VIII's request to divorce Wife #1 (Catherine of Aragon) because she isn't able to produce a male heir is denied by the Pope. Henry reacts in the only possible logical way. He invents a religion that allows divorce, makes himself the head of it, confiscates the lands and money of every Catholic monastery in England to pay for it, and executes people who object. Because, well, duh.

3/7/1876: Alexander Graham Bell receives a patent for the telephone. Which leads to the phone company. Which leads to Ernestine, the Phone Company lady. (Don't have a Hulu account? Here's the transcript).

3/7/1912: Roald Amundsen finds the South Pole. Native nematode population asserts that it was never lost to begin with.

3/7/1930: Twenty four years before the shot clock is invented, players on two Chicago high school teams (Georgetown High and Homer High) battle it out for what turns out to be the lowest scoring game in basketball history; mostly by just standing in place and staring at each other while fans plead desperately with them to THROW THE BALL. Georgetown finally wins 1-0.

3/7/1981: First ever homicide takes place at Disneyland. World is astounded that it was not committed by an employee stuck inside the "It's a Small World After All" exhibit.

3/7/2017: Malta's "Azure Window" collapses into the sea. Microsoft promises to release a patch.

3/7/2018: Vaccine Dinner Club charter member Harriet Robinson jets in from California (AGAIN) to present to the Vaccine Dinner Club. The crowd goes wild.

Be there or be out of step with history,
your friendly neighborhood Vaccine Dinner Club goddess

Register Now



June - August, 2018

Summer Vacation
The VDC Membership

Focus: Rest and Relaxation
Attendance: 3,257
Clubhouse du jour: The World

Wherever there is a vaccine to develop, describe, or disseminate, a vaccine preventable disease outbreak to examine, or fun to be had with friends and family -- VDC members will be there in force!




September 5, 2018

Focus: One Health
Attendance: 472

From Farm to Arm:
One Health and Vaccines for High Consequence Pathogens


Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh

Director, 'One Health' Office
CDC National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID)

Dr. Jennifer McQuiston

Deputy Director
NCEZID Division of High Consequences Pathogens and Pathology (DHCPP)

Dr. Ryan Wallace

DHCPP Poxvirus and Rabies Branch

Dr. Maria Negron

Veterinary Medical Officer
DHCPP Bacterial Special Pathogens Branch

As hard as it is to believe, summer 2018 is practically history and the first meeting of the 2017-2018 Vaccine Dinner Club (VDC) season is practically on top of us!

So here's your end-of-summer to-do list:

  1. Put your whites shoes away for the winter
  2. Donate your spare neoprene to make swim floaties for disabled Leafy sea dragons
  3. Check out Colin Nissan's assertion in the New Yorker that checking yourself for ticks after going outside may be the only way to see what your body looks like covered in ticks
  4. Register NOW for the 2018-2019 VDC season opener
  5. Forward this message to new colleagues / ESI officers / post-docs / students / friends / neighbors / anyone else who moved to our region over the summer and might be interested in the VDC

Dear Current (and Future) Vacciners,
This season the VDC is 20 years old; in fact we turn 21 next January, at which point the Club will finally be able to drive, drink, and vote in all 50 states. So let's get together and celebrate two decades of Hot Food and Cool Science by learning new things about … anthrax, rabies, brucellosis, and other bugs that are unusually adept at creating mortality, misery, and mayhem for one and all. Good times!!

To prep for that, try this multiple choice test:

"One Health" is:

  1. WAY better than "Two Health"
  2. What former Peace Corps volunteers quietly mutter to each other while surreptitiously performing the secret handshake
  3. An acknowledgement that even though humans drive better cars than other animals do (although even that is debatable), humans and non-humans have a lot in common – for example we share entirely too many of the same germs -- and would all benefit from a collaborative human-veterinary medical approach to misery-, mayhem-, and mortality- mitigation. Starting with vaccines.

High Consequence Pathogens:

  1. Belong to the 1% and split their time between the Hamptons, Cabo San Lucas, and Vis, Croatia
  2. Is a gated-community halfway between Elephant Butte and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
  3. Include highly lethal viral, bacterial, prion, and related infectious and diseases of unknown origin

The Vaccine Dinner Club:

  1. Is a 3,200+ member organization that exists to facilitate networking, dialogue, and collaboration between researchers, clinicians, policy makers, and historian/journalists who are interested in vaccine need, history, policy, discovery, development, testing, deployment, use, and/or evaluation.
  2. Has two missions: To advance the practice of vaccine science by stimulating the intellectual and research productivity of the vaccine research community in the Southeast and to have a really good time at our monthly meetings
  3. Is THE place for inquiring minds to be on the first Wednesday evening (usually) of every month during the academic year
  4. All of the above

Answer key: C, C, D

Which is not only "CDC" – home of our September meeting panelists – spelled sideways, it is also a subliminal prompt urging you to check out an opportunity to exercise the other side of your brain on Friday nights this year by dancing with the Chattahoochee Contra Dancers (CCD) at the Decatur Recreation Center. Neither partner nor previous experience required.

Register Now.

Hope to see you and your guests for Dinner at the Club on September 5th,
- Kimbi Hagen
VDC Director/Goddess



October 3, 2018

Focus: Social Issues
Attendance: 428

Calling the Shots:
Why Parents Reject Vaccines

Starring the Author:

Jennifer Reich

University of Colorado, Denver

Dear Vacciners,
If you were a kid in the United States in the 1940s it would have seemed perfectly normal to grow up weeding the vegetable patch in your backyard Victory Garden, to have blocks of ice delivered to your door by a horse-drawn cart, to assume that your neighbors were listening in when your operator-assisted 'party line' phone rang (the original social media!), and to personally know someone who was living in an iron lung because of polio. You would also have considered yourself fully immunized for school after having gotten just TWO shots: smallpox and DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis).

One generation later — in the 1970s — the children of those 1940s kids probably assumed (if they thought about it at all) that vegetables grew in tin cans on grocery store shelves, that ice had always, since the beginning of time, been frozen at home in little levered aluminum trays, and that a vitally necessary use of your time was to spend it untangling the Princess Phone ("It's little, it's lovely, it lights!") receiver cord that was long enough to allow private telephone calls if you stretched it all the way from the living room through the kitchen to the middle of the back hall. 1970s kids were also a lot more knowledgeable about the Iron Curtain than they were about iron lungs and would have considered themselves fully immunized, even in the absence of the now passé smallpox vaccine, if they got FIVE vaccines by the time they were two (with no more than one shot per doctor's visit), now that jabs for MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), plus the miraculous sugar cube against polio, had been tacked on to the DTP regimen.

Fast forward another generation or two. The grandchildren and great grandchildren of those 1940s kids now think that it is perfectly normal for their (organic, non GMO, banana-kiwi-spinach-kale-greek yogurt-barley-and-oats) lunch to come as packaged as a tasty puree from a squeeze pouch, for their (shaved/cubed/crushed) ice to be dispensed straight into a water glass from the front door of the fridge, and for their iPhone to ping them wherever they are on the planet each time Britney Spears gets arrested again. They also think it is normal to get a LOT of shots. A kid who is following the current vaccine schedule will have received THIRTY TWO immunization doses by time he or she turns 13, not counting annual flu shots or the extra jabs they'd get if they were considered to be at high risk for meningococcal disease.

And it isn't just happening to school age kids, in a worst-case scenario (i.e. playing catch up with DTaP and in that high risk group for meningococcus) the great-granddaughter of a boy who, back in the day, had received (along with one of the first ever Slinky toys) just one shot on his first birthday in 1945, might celebrate HER first birthday in 2018 at the pediatrician's office getting 9 more shots than she has candles on her birthday cupcake.

So that's a big change just over the lifespan of people who are alive today. A BIG change. One that you can look at in multiple ways. For example, you might choose to focus on just how many syringes are needed to give all those shots at a population level and decide that Mr. McGuire was absolutely correct in the 1967 advice he gave Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate."

Or you might spend a day in an old cemetery looking at the acres of teeny tiny headstones belonging to children who died from diseases that are now vaccine preventable and try to imagine what it must has been like to have been a parent in a time in which the lack of vaccines meant that you did not have the luxury of automatically assuming that all, or even any, of your babies would grow up to be cowboys.

Or you might choose to say: "Whoa!! That's too many shots in too short a time. And are they even SAFE? Keep your hands off my kid!!," like some parents do.

And just to stir the pot some more, think about what happens when you start MANDATING some of those vaccines.

For example, on December 11, 2013 the New York City Board of Health voted to make flu vaccinations mandatory for children under 6 who go to pre-school or daycare. Boy howdee, did the Twittersphere ever explode. There were Fail Whale sightings across all five boroughs.

What people who thought that it was a good idea were saying:

What people who thought this was a bad idea were saying:

What people who thought that the above arguments were specious said in return:

What people who think the above argument is, um, 'not helpful' retorted:

This is the point in which civil discourse typically broke down.

Not just because all parties involved were, by this time, busy glowering at each other and singing "la la la la la" while holding their fingers in their ears, the truth is that we DON'T have an army to enforce our mandatory vaccines, not to mention our merely recommended ones. If we did, we'd have to call them 'compulsory,' not mandatory, and we haven't had compulsory vaccination in over a hundred years in this country (see Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 1905).

But is that even necessary? Why can't we bring parents who are vaccine hesitant into the Light without having to stamp our feet, turn red in the face, threaten to put their name on Santa Claus' "naughty" list, throw them out of our pediatric practices, or otherwise fantasize a resort to force?

Come to the October VDC meeting and find out what the funny, articulate, and totally cool author of the multi-award winning book "Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines" has to say about it all.

(BTW: If this sounds at all intriguing, bring your credit card … She will be signing copies of her book during dinner ….)

Register Now!

Hope to see you and your guests for dinner at the Club next week,
-La Goddess



November 7, 2018

Focus: Vaccine Development
Attendance: 246

Breaking Bad Good:
Developing a Vaccine Against Opiate Addiction


Gary Matyas, PhD

Chief of Adjuvants and Formulations,
U.S. Military Research Program (MHRP)

Clubhouse Location:
Rollins Auditorium, Claudia Nance Rollins Building, Rollins School of Public Health
6:00pm — wine, cheese, networking
6:30pm — meeting convenes
7:45pm — casual buffet dinner, more networking

Dear Vacciners,
Many kudos to those of you who managed to ignore your perfectly reasonable Pavlovian urge to drop everything last Wednesday night and head over to WHSCAB in search of hot food and cool science.

Your reward awaits at the VDC meeting taking place THIS WEDNESDAY evening when we all have a chance to hear whether Dr. Matyas has any good news to offer those of us who would very, very badly like to see opiate addiction turned into a vaccine preventable disease and eliminate the need for more obituaries like this one.

Oh, and don't forget … The VDC's club house du jour this week will be the Rollins Auditorium (and plaza) in the Claudia Nance Rollins building. (We have been told that there will be a gathering taking place at WHSCAB on Wednesday but it won't be OUR gathering. So try to avoid gate crashing).

Hope to see you and your guests for dinner at the Club (at the Claudia Nance Rollins building),
-La Goddess



December 5, 2018

Focus: Basic Science
Attendance: 321

Immunological Memory:
Twenty Years Later


Rafi Ahmed, PhD

Director, Emory Vaccine Center

Dear Vacciners,
What were YOU doing on Wednesday, January 7, 1998?

Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky spent it signing a federal affidavit stating that she was not having an affair with President Bill Clinton. As you may or may not remember, that notable moment in history led to a sequence of events that culminated in lots of people taking a deep, abiding interest in the Court's increasingly parsed definition of what "sex" is because – as President Clinton said to the Grand Jury later that year – "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." Of course.

Down here in Atlanta, over 300 scientists, faculty, grad students, and science savvy members of the general public were spending that very same evening listening to Dr. Rafi Ahmed present at the first ever meeting of the Vaccine Dinner Club ("Thanks for the Memories: Understanding the Relationship between Immunologic Memory and Protective Immunity to Virus Infections").

THAT notable moment in history may not have answered any complex grammatical questions but it did lead to a sequence of events that culminated in over 4,000 people (and counting) taking a deep, abiding interest in permanently setting aside the first Wednesday evening of each month to eat, drink, and enjoy 178 (to date) interesting presentations because – as VDC speaker Steve McCarter (November 2016: "If People Can Get Chicken Pox Can Chickens Get People Pox?: Viral Diseases of Domestic Poultry and Why They Matter") once said – "The VDC is the largest and coolest organization of its kind in the entire world!" Of course.

So to close out our first two decades of Hot Food and Cool Science we have invited Dr. Ahmed to come back and update that first ever talk on Immunological Memory!

Don't forget to register to attend – your immune system wouldn't.

Hope to see you for dinner at the Club on December 5,
-La Goddess