Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Reminding people of the dangers of diseases boosts vaccine acceptance

The US has seen an increasing number of outbreaks from some communicable diseases that can easily be controlled through vaccination, but there has been a parallel increase in the number of parents who are choosing not to vaccinate their children. In part because there are a lot of reasons that the vaccination rate is dropping (unfounded fears about vaccine safety and mistrust of pharmaceutical companies are two), it's not clear that a single intervention will reverse this trend.

A pair of papers released this week looked at two very different approaches, one focused on individuals and a second at state-level laws. They show that it's relatively simple to change both attitudes and actions on vaccination.

Fighting back against the backfire effect

The first study, from PNAS, looks at individuals' attitudes toward vaccines. You might think that countering unfounded fears about vaccine safety would be a simple matter of showing people the safety data, but it doesn't work like that. Doing so risks what's called the "backfire effect," described in the paper as follows: "Direct attempts to dispel myths [regarding vaccine safety] risk perpetuating those myths through their repetition, as this repetition breeds familiarity and may strengthen people’s memory for incorrect information."

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Summer Sparkle With Taittinger Champagne

girl in red dress
taittinger champagne party

Who is ready for a crisp, cold bubbly? The festive folks at Taittinger Champagne demonstrated the proper way to celebrate the holidays in July. The Champagne party took place at a gorgeous East Village townhouse featuring a fantastic collection of temporary art and elaborate moldings.

For those of us who don't have a multi-story townhouse filled with art, there were certainly other party tips to be replicated. There were big golden paper circles that were stuck all over the walls, a budget-friendly way to make the stuffiest location fun. The champagne "tree" was achieved with lots of bottles with an acrylic circle in between. If you don't have the budget for that, you can substitute some bottles with water, wine, etc.

The purpose of the soiree, of course, was to taste and learn about Taittinger champagne. Their "basic" party bottle was a Brut La Francaise which was anything but. It is a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. It was a perfect summer sparkler with peach, vanilla and white flower notes. I loved this with the divine shrimp rillettes of the night (see recipe below).

Their Taittinger Nocturne was introduced as their holiday party vintage. The bottle looks like it was carved out of a disco ball (see the top photo). It tasted sweeter and paired well with rich desserts like champagne truffles and French macarons.

The prize of the evening was the Taittinger Comte de Champagne, Blanc de Blancs. I was told to taste the one "in the funny bottle". This Cuvee was exceptional. It was aged 8-10 years. I learned that Blanc de Blancs means the blend is 100% Chardonnay grapes. This particular champagne is made in smaller batches. When the bartenders cracked open fresh oysters on the ice next to my flute, I was in heaven.

Serve up the Shimp Rillettes with your next bottle of Taittinger Champagne:

canape recipeIngredients
1 T. canola oil
4 shallots, chopped
2 bay leaves, fresh
1 lb. shrimp, shelled and deveined
½ c dry white wine
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
3 T unsalted butter, softened
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice plus 1 t lemon zest
1 T chopped chive

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and bay leaf. Cook until
translucent, about 3 minutes. Add shrimp and wine. Season with salt and white
pepper and cook until shrimp are pink and cooked through, about 3 minutes.
Remove and discard bay leaf; let cool slightly. Transfer to a food processor with
metal blade.
Add butter and cream cheese. Puree until smooth. Add the lemon zest, juice, and
chives. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer to a non-metallic bowl. Press plastic wrap on surface of rillettes. Cover the
bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8 hours.
Pipe onto toast or crackers to serve.
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Is this the only universe?

Human history has been a journey toward insignificance. As we’ve gained more knowledge, we’ve had our planet downgraded

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Predicting the shape of river deltas

The Mississippi River delta is a rich ecosystem of barrier islands, estuaries, and wetlands that’s home to a

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The appalling, incoherent selfishness of Chris Christie's vaccine 'choice'

On CBS's Face the Nation last Sunday, Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he is "very concerned" about the possibility of a massive, sustained outbreak of measles in the United States. A growing number of parents are deciding not to vaccinate their children, resulting in 100 cases of measles in 14 states in the latest outbreak. Frieden argued that it is extremely important to prevent measles from re-establishing itself as an endemic disease, after it was eradicated at great expense and effort around the year 2000.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) chose the very next day to downplay the threat, a reply of sorts to President Obama, who strenuously recommended vaccination in an interview. At a press conference in England, part of a trip that is widely considered to be a rehearsal for a presidential run, Christie said that while he has vaccinated his own children, he did not expressly recommend vaccination for others. Instead, people "should have some measure of choice." (The libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went further, saying of vaccines, "Most of them ought to be voluntary.")

After criticism, Christie amended his statement to emphasize that "there is no question kids should be vaccinated," while still maintaining that the danger of vaccine-preventable illnesses should be "balanced" against the supposed risks of vaccines. But it still doesn't wash, given the 2009 letter he wrote saying he would "stand with" vaccine-refusenik parents.

Christie is utterly mistaken on the science. But his comments exemplify a typically American selfishness, one that in this case is not just morally odious, but incoherent.

It's true that an individual case of measles is a lot less threatening than one of Ebola, for which Christie — again acting against the best advice of medical scientists — last year briefly enacted a forcible quarantine for health-care workers who had treated Ebola in Africa. By this reasoning, it is worth curtailing individual liberty for very deadly diseases, but not so with less dangerous ones.

But just because a disease is not as bad as Ebola does not mean it isn't still worth eradicating. Furthermore, the measles vaccine is extremely safe for healthy people: though there is a tiny risk, as there is with every activity, it is far smaller than getting measles itself. Only the very young, and those with compromised immune systems or allergies, have an actual reason to avoid it.

And make no mistake, measles is still a very serious illness. A quarter-million people worldwide got it last year, mostly children in the developing world; more than half died (though that death rate can be reduced to about 1 to 2 out of 1,000 with modern medicine). Long-term complications can include deafness, pneumonia, encephalitis, and a degenerative nerve disease. It's also incredibly contagious, "probably the most contagious infectious disease known to mankind," as a CDC specialist told NPR. Back in the pre-vaccine days, each person who caught it infected 17 new ones — as opposed to less than two for Ebola.

More broadly, this entire argumentative frame misses the greatest benefit of vaccines: herd immunity. A population vaccinated to a high enough level becomes largely impervious to the disease by sheer statistics, and that protects the vulnerable ones who can't be vaccinated, or those whose vaccines didn't take root. Vaccines are not just about preventing personal illness, but stopping them from spreading. Done systematically enough, it can eradicate diseases completely. The elimination of smallpox, which killed something like 300 million people in the 20th century alone, ranks high on the list of human accomplishments.

That is why this is as much a moral issue as a scientific one. The appalling selfishness inherent in the idea of "vaccine choice" was starkly illustrated in a recent CNN story. After the measles outbreak at Disneyland, CNN talked to a family whose 10-month-old baby had contracted the disease. They're terrified he'll pass it on to their 3-year-old daughter, who has leukemia and can't get the vaccine — but might be killed by the disease. Here's the response of a refusenik parent:

CNN asked Wolfson if he could live with himself if his unvaccinated child got another child gravely ill. "I could live with myself easily," he said. "It's an unfortunate thing that people die, but people die. I'm not going to put my child at risk to save another child." [CNN]

In other words, it's okay to cause the death of another child if your kid wants to go to Disneyland. And that's leaving aside the risk to Wolfson's own kids, who are put at risk by his atrocious parenting.

Every person depends on society to function. From public roads to sanitation to clean water to the very economic system itself — your day is made possible by millions of other people doing their small part to maintain our civilization. When it comes to violently contagious diseases, it is not possible to speak meaningfully of choice divorced from the needs of those people.

Herd immunity, like many of the great public goods, is literally an issue of life and death. As such, Christie's parental "choice" is a gross infringement of others' basic rights.

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NASA is crash-testing Cessnas so we can find more planes when they do crash

NASA developing next-gen search and rescue technology.

Early in July, 16-year-old Autumn Veatch was found on the side of a Washington state highway. She told the people who picked her up that she had been walking for days since the Beech A-35 she was flying in with her step-grandparents flew into a bank of clouds and then crashed in the wilderness. The plane caught fire; only Veatch was able to escape.

Veatch's own story is remarkable, but even more remarkable is that even in this extremely connected world with satellites and a survivor to guide the search teams, it still took days to find the crash site.

All planes are required to have Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs), according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. In the days following the wreck, search teams flew over great swaths of wilderness listening for beacon signals. They eventually found the plane in “extremely rugged and vertical” terrain in the words of the Skagit County Sheriff's Office. It's unclear whether the plane's ELTs contributed to its discovery.

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Rosetta blog: First release of Rosetta comet phase data from four orbiter instruments

ESA’s Rosetta downlink and archive teams are very happy to announce the release today of the first wave

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Eco Fashion In The Park

tom sohung fashion show
 Have you every travelled to the top of Manhattan for a fashion show? Highbridge Park was host to an eco fashion event featuring upcycled, recycled runway of sustainable fashion design.

The park does feature a high bridge built in 1848 to carry Croton Aqueduct water across the Harlem River. The park was recently re-opened after 40 years after a 61 million refurbishment. The bridge served as the quarter-mile pedestrian runway to the five fashion designers who showed their eco-friendly fashion collections.

eco fashion in the park

Stylist Gina Constanza organized the community event after discovering her passion for sustainable clothing while working with it for fashion segments on Dominican television. Participating fashion labels included  Sarah Bacchus works natural fabrics, Dominican-born Martin Polanco, Kymistry Designs, Amparo3 and Sohung Designs, whose signature zipper-embellished work is a favorite at Chelsea Market and dominate a few places in my own closet.

The event also included a large clothing swap. The entire community was invited bring gently used clothing to trade with each other in a stylish set-up with help in re-styling. Local businesses provided frozen treats and snacks to keep everyone fed and hydrated. City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez was a collaborator on the fashion show. He helped the get the word out that drew an impressive turnout for a park that wasn't that easy to get to (at least for me).

dominican fashion designer

For anyone who had not seen the re-opened park yet, this was an awesome introduction. The sun was shining, there was a bevy of models in eco-chic fashion that took a long, hot walk down one of the unique runways that the city could offer. For anyone who wanted to learn about being stylish while reducing their carbon footprint, this was a community event that had a lot of heart. Congratulations to all the fabulous peeps in the Heights!

highbridge washington heights

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After 85-year search, massless particle with promise for next-generation electronics discovered

An international team led by Princeton University scientists has discovered an elusive massless particle theorized 85 years ago.

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Brown dwarf boasts ‘Northern Lights’

Brown dwarfs, sometimes called ‘failed stars’, are too massive to be planets but not massive enough to sustain

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