Daily Archives: October 28, 2009

Top medical expert: Gardasil vaccine not only useless, but a risk to children’s health

“The rate of serious adverse events is greater than the incidence rate of cervical cancer.”

Harper: Controversal Drug Will Do Little To Reduce Cervical Cancer Rates

Gardasil Researcher Drops A Bombshell

The Bulletin | Oct 25, 2009

By Susan Brinkmann

Dr. Diane Harper, lead researcher in the development of two human papilloma virus vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, said the controversial drugs will do little to reduce cervical cancer rates and, even though they’re being recommended for girls as young as nine, there have been no efficacy trials in children under the age of 15.

Dr. Harper, director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Research Group at the University of Missouri, made these remarks during an address at the 4th International Public Conference on Vaccination which took place in Reston, Virginia on Oct. 2-4. Although her talk was intended to promote the vaccine, participants said they came away convinced the vaccine should not be received.

“I came away from the talk with the perception that the risk of adverse side effects is so much greater than the risk of cervical cancer, I couldn’t help but question why we need the vaccine at all,” said Joan Robinson, Assistant Editor at the Population Research Institute.

Dr. Harper began her remarks by explaining that 70 percent of all HPV infections resolve themselves without treatment within a year. Within two years, the number climbs to 90 percent. Of the remaining 10 percent of HPV infections, only half will develop into cervical cancer, which leaves little need for the vaccine.

She went on to surprise the audience by stating that the incidence of cervical cancer in the U.S. is already so low that “even if we get the vaccine and continue PAP screening, we will not lower the rate of cervical cancer in the US.”

There will be no decrease in cervical cancer until at least 70 percent of the population is vaccinated, and even then, the decrease will be minimal.

Apparently, conventional treatment and preventative measures are already cutting the cervical cancer rate by four percent a year. At this rate, in 60 years, there will be a 91.4 percent decline just with current treatment. Even if 70 percent of women get the shot and required boosters over the same time period, which is highly unlikely, Harper says Gardasil still could not claim to do as much as traditional care is already doing.

Dr. Harper, who also serves as a consultant to the World Health Organization, further undercut the case for mass vaccination by saying that “four out of five women with cervical cancer are in developing countries.”

Ms. Robinson said she could not help but wonder, “If this is the case, then why vaccinate at all? But from the murmurs of the doctors in the audience, it was apparent that the same thought was occurring to them.”

However, at this point, Dr. Harper dropped an even bigger bombshell on the audience when she announced that, “There have been no efficacy trials in girls under 15 years.”

Merck, the manufacturer of Gardasil, studied only a small group of girls under 16 who had been vaccinated, but did not follow them long enough to conclude sufficient presence of effective HPV antibodies.

This is not the first time Dr. Harper revealed the fact that Merck never tested Gardasil for safety in young girls. During a 2007 interview with KPC News.com, she said giving the vaccine to girls as young as 11 years-old “is a great big public health experiment.”

At the time, which was at the height of Merck’s controversial drive to have the vaccine mandated in schools, Dr. Harper remained steadfastly opposed to the idea and said she had been trying for months to convince major television and print media about her concerns, “but no one will print it.”

“It is silly to mandate vaccination of 11 to 12 year old girls,” she said at the time. “There also is not enough evidence gathered on side effects to know that safety is not an issue.”

When asked why she was speaking out, she said: “I want to be able to sleep with myself when I go to bed at night.”

Since the drug’s introduction in 2006, the public has been learning many of these facts the hard way. To date, 15,037 girls have officially reported adverse side effects from Gardasil to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). These adverse reactions include Guilliane Barre, lupus, seizures, paralysis, blood clots, brain inflammation and many others. The CDC acknowledges that there have been 44 reported deaths.

Dr. Harper also participated in the research on Glaxo-Smith-Kline’s version of the drug, Cervarix, currently in use in the UK but not yet approved here. Since the government began administering the vaccine to school-aged girls last year, more than 2,000 patients reported some kind of adverse reaction including nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, convulsions, seizures and hyperventilation. Several reported multiple reactions, with 4,602 suspected side-effects recorded in total. The most tragic case involved a 14 year-old girl who dropped dead in the corridor of her school an hour after receiving the vaccination.

The outspoken researcher also weighed in last month on a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that raised questions about the safety of the vaccine, saying bluntly: “The rate of serious adverse events is greater than the incidence rate of cervical cancer.”

Ms. Robinson said she respects Dr. Harper’s candor. “I think she’s a scientist, a researcher, and she’s genuine enough a scientist to be open about the risks. I respect that in her.”

However, she failed to make the case for Gardasil. “For me, it was hard to resist the conclusion that Gardasil does almost nothing for the health of American women.”

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Rock rages against the torture machine

Deicide

The list of music used included death metal band Deicide’s F..k Your God

Air Force lieutenant colonel Dan Kuehl, who teaches psychological operations to the US military, invoked the Old Testament use of loud music. “Joshua’s army used horns to strike fear into the hearts of the people of Jericho.”

The Australian | Oct 24, 2009

by Tim Reid

A COALITION of musicians including Pearl Jam and REM. has backed a formal demand to be told if their songs have been used to torture detainees in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq.

Many former prisoners have claimed they were blasted with excruciatingly loud music for months on end – a tactic banned under the UN Convention Against Torture but not yet from the US Army Field Manual.

The musicians spoke out yesterday as a Freedom of Information request was lodged by the US campaign group No More Guantanamos, a legal move backed by the British human rights group Reprieve, which has been campaigning against “music torture” for more than a year.

According to evidence gained by human rights organisations, the list of music used included songs ranging from death metal band Deicide’s F..k Your God, Sesame Street tunes, and the song most frequently blasted at inmates, I Love You by the children’s TV character Barney the Purple Dinosaur.

Former detainees have said the tactic was one of the worst and most painful used against them. The National Security Archive, a freedom of information organisation helping the musicians, said the playlist also featured cuts from AC/DC, Britney Spears, the Bee Gees, and Marilyn Manson.

Archive executive director Thomas Blanton said: “At Guantanamo the US government turned a jukebox into an instrument of torture. The musicians and the public have the right to know how an expression of popular culture was transformed into an interrogation technique.”

Tom Morello, guitarist with the band Rage Against the Machine – whose song Killing in the Name of was also used – said: “The fact that music I helped create was used as a tactic against humanity sickens me.”

The musicians’ campaign comes as the Obama administration has been forced to concede that the President’s pledge to shut Guantanamo by January will fail. His bold promise to close the prison within a year of coming to office has run into myriad political and logistical problems, including fierce opposition at home to the transportation of detainees to US prisons and a reluctance by Western allies to receive many of the remaining inmates. Congress is refusing to fund the closure of the facility, which still holds about 220 prisoners.

After the September 11 attacks and the war on terror it appears the use of loud music first became common inside Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, scene of the infamous inmate abuse photographs.

Haj Ali, the hooded man in one of the most notorious pictures, told of being stripped and forced to listen to a looped version of David Gray’s Babylon at a volume so loud that he said he thought his head “would explode”. Metallica’s Enter Sandman was often used in Guantanamo Bay, while Queen’s We Are the Champions was a favourite among US guards at Camp Cropper in Iraq. One Iraqi talked of being taken to an unidentified location and blasted with music in a building referred to as “the disco”.

In one case interrogators allegedly played music to “stress” Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a citizen of Mauritania, who has been at Guantanamo for more than seven years, because he believed music was forbidden.

Slahi said he was questioned over a 10-day period in July 2003 by an interrogator called “Mr X” while being “exposed to variable lighting patterns” and repeated playing of a song called Let the Bodies Hit the Floor by the band Drowning Pool.

Last year, retired US air force lieutenant colonel Dan Kuehl, who teaches psychological operations to the US military, invoked the Old Testament use of loud music. “Joshua’s army used horns to strike fear into the hearts of the people of Jericho,” he told the St Petersburg Times in Florida. “His men might not have been able to break down literal walls with their trumpets but the noise eroded the enemy’s courage.”

Afghan President Karzai’s drug gangster brother on CIA payroll

Ahmed Wali Karzai,Ahmed Wali Karzai, right, the brother of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, at a campaign event in Kandahar in August. Banaras Khan/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on C.I.A. Payroll

NY Times | Oct 28, 2009

by Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.

The ties to Mr. Karzai have created deep divisions within the Obama administration. The critics say the ties complicate America’s increasingly tense relationship with President Hamid Karzai, who has struggled to build sustained popularity among Afghans and has long been portrayed by the Taliban as an American puppet. The C.I.A.’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.

More broadly, some American officials argue that the reliance on Ahmed Wali Karzai, the most powerful figure in a large area of southern Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgency is strongest, undermines the American push to develop an effective central government that can maintain law and order and eventually allow the United States to withdraw.

“If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” said Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan.

Related

Karzai’s brother on CIA payroll

Ahmed Wali Karzai: Afghani Gangster

Reports Link Karzai’s Brother to Afghanistan Heroin Trade

Karzai’s Brother Is a CIA Asset

At this point, everything about the U.S. policy toward the Afghan drug trade — from tolerance to eradication during the Bush administration to an evolving approach to cultivating alternatives — now ought to be questioned.

Ahmed Wali Karzai said in an interview that he cooperated with American civilian and military officials, but did not engage in the drug trade and did not receive payments from the C.I.A.

The relationship between Mr. Karzai and the C.I.A. is wide ranging, several American officials said. He helps the C.I.A. operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists. On at least one occasion, the strike force has been accused of mounting an unauthorized operation against an official of the Afghan government, the officials said.

Mr. Karzai is also paid for allowing the C.I.A. and American Special Operations troops to rent a large compound outside the city — the former home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s founder. The same compound is also the base of the Kandahar Strike Force. “He’s our landlord,” a senior American official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Karzai also helps the C.I.A. communicate with and sometimes meet with Afghans loyal to the Taliban. Mr. Karzai’s role as a go-between between the Americans and the Taliban is now regarded as valuable by those who support working with Mr. Karzai, as the Obama administration is placing a greater focus on encouraging Taliban leaders to change sides.

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment for this article.

“No intelligence organization worth the name would ever entertain these kind of allegations,” said Paul Gimigliano, the spokesman.

Some American officials said that the allegations of Mr. Karzai’s role in the drug trade were not conclusive.

“There’s no proof of Ahmed Wali Karzai’s involvement in drug trafficking, certainly nothing that would stand up in court,” said one American official familiar with the intelligence. “And you can’t ignore what the Afghan government has done for American counterterrorism efforts.”

At the start of the Afghan war, just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, American officials paid warlords with questionable backgrounds to help topple the Taliban and maintain order with relatively few American troops committed to fight in the country. But as the Taliban has become resurgent and the war has intensified, Americans have increasingly viewed a strong and credible central government as crucial to turning back the Taliban’s advances.

Now, with more American lives on the line, the relationship with Mr. Karzai is setting off anger and frustration among American military officers and other officials in the Obama administration. They say that Mr. Karzai’s suspected role in the drug trade, as well as what they describe as the mafialike way that he lords over southern Afghanistan, makes him a malevolent force.

These military and political officials say the evidence, though largely circumstantial, suggests strongly that Mr. Karzai has enriched himself by helping the illegal trade in poppy and opium to flourish. The assessment of these military and senior officials in the Obama administration dovetails with that of senior officials in the Bush administration.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars in drug money are flowing through the southern region, and nothing happens in southern Afghanistan without the regional leadership knowing about it,” a senior American military officer in Kabul said. Like most of the officials in this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the information.

“If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck,” the American officer said of Mr. Karzai. “Our assumption is that he’s benefiting from the drug trade.”

American officials say that Afghanistan’s opium trade, the largest in the world, directly threatens the stability of the Afghan state, by providing a large percentage of the money the Taliban needs for its operations, and also by corrupting Afghan public officials to help the trade flourish.

The Obama administration has repeatedly vowed to crack down on the drug lords who are believed to permeate the highest levels of President Karzai’s administration. They have pressed him to move his brother out of southern Afghanistan, but he has so far refused to do so.

Other Western officials pointed to evidence that Ahmed Wali Karzai orchestrated the manufacture of hundreds of thousands of phony ballots for his brother’s re-election effort in August. He is also believed to have been responsible for setting up dozens of so-called ghost polling stations — existing only on paper — that were used to manufacture tens of thousands of phony ballots.

“The only way to clean up Chicago is to get rid of Capone,” General Flynn said.

In the interview in which he denied a role in the drug trade or taking money from the C.I.A., Ahmed Wali Karzai said he received regular payments from his brother, the president, for “expenses,” but said he did not know where the money came from. He has, among other things, introduced Americans to insurgents considering changing sides. And he has given the Americans intelligence, he said. But he said he was not compensated for that assistance.

“I don’t know anyone under the name of the C.I.A.,” Mr. Karzai said. “I have never received any money from any organization. I help, definitely. I help other Americans wherever I can. This is my duty as an Afghan.”

Mr. Karzai acknowledged that the C.I.A. and Special Operations troops stayed at Mullah Omar’s old compound. And he acknowledged that the Kandahar Strike Force was based there. But he said he had no involvement with them.

A former C.I.A. officer with experience in Afghanistan said the agency relied heavily on Ahmed Wali Karzai, and often based covert operatives at compounds he owned. Any connections Mr. Karzai might have had to the drug trade mattered little to C.I.A. officers focused on counterterrorism missions, the officer said.

“Virtually every significant Afghan figure has had brushes with the drug trade,” he said. “If you are looking for Mother Teresa, she doesn’t live in Afghanistan.”

The debate over Ahmed Wali Karzai, which began when President Obama took office in January, intensified in June, when the C.I.A.’s local paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, shot and killed Kandahar’s provincial police chief, Matiullah Qati, in a still-unexplained shootout at the office of a local prosecutor.

The circumstances surrounding Mr. Qati’s death remain shrouded in mystery. It is unclear, for instance, if any agency operatives were present — but officials say the firefight broke out when Mr. Qati tried to block the strike force from freeing the brother of a task force member who was being held in custody.

“Matiullah was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Mr. Karzai said in the interview.

Counternarcotics officials have repeatedly expressed frustration over the unwillingness of senior policy makers in Washington to take action against Mr. Karzai — or even begin a serious investigation of the allegations against him. In fact, they say that while other Afghans accused of drug involvement are investigated and singled out for raids or even rendition to the United States, Mr. Karzai has seemed immune from similar scrutiny.

For years, first the Bush administration and then the Obama administration have said that the Taliban benefits from the drug trade, and the United States military has recently expanded its target list to include drug traffickers with ties to the insurgency. The military has generated a list of 50 top drug traffickers tied to the Taliban who can now be killed or captured.

Senior Afghan investigators say they know plenty about Mr. Karzai’s involvement in the drug business. In an interview in Kabul this year, a top former Afghan Interior Ministry official familiar with Afghan counternarcotics operations said that a major source of Mr. Karzai’s influence over the drug trade was his control over key bridges crossing the Helmand River on the route between the opium growing regions of Helmand Province and Kandahar.

The former Interior Ministry official said that Mr. Karzai was able to charge huge fees to drug traffickers to allow their drug-laden trucks to cross the bridges.

But the former officials said it was impossible for Afghan counternarcotics officials to investigate Mr. Karzai. “This government has become a factory for the production of Talibs because of corruption and injustice,” the former official said.

Some American counternarcotics officials have said they believe that Mr. Karzai has expanded his influence over the drug trade, thanks in part to American efforts to single out other drug lords.

In debriefing notes from Drug Enforcement Administration interviews in 2006 of Afghan informants obtained by The New York Times, one key informant said that Ahmed Wali Karzai had benefited from the American operation that lured Hajji Bashir Noorzai, a major Afghan drug lord during the time that the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, to New York in 2005. Mr. Noorzai was convicted on drug and conspiracy charges in New York in 2008, and was sentenced to life in prison this year.

Habibullah Jan, a local military commander and later a member of Parliament from Kandahar, told the D.E.A. in 2006 that Mr. Karzai had teamed with Haji Juma Khan to take over a portion of the Noorzai drug business after Mr. Noorzai’s arrest.

Dexter Filkins reported from Kabul, and Mark Mazzetti and James Risen from Washington. Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.

Antipsychotics Cause Weight Gain in Kids

WSJ | Oct 28, 2009

By JONATHAN D. ROCKOFF

Antipsychotic drugs widely used in children caused youths to gain as much as 19 pounds on average after just 11 weeks on the medications, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The findings about the drugs, known as atypical antipsychotics, bolster concerns about giving the medicines to patients under 18 years of age. The study’s authors urged child psychiatrists to exercise caution before deciding to prescribe, and to closely monitor patients taking the drugs.

The powerful drugs are used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They have faced growing scrutiny, not only because of concerns about weight gain that could lead to diabetes, but also because of the aggressive marketing tactics by their makers that have helped make them the highest-selling class of drugs in the U.S.

The study results come as the Food and Drug Administration considers approving younger patients’ use of a few of the drugs. Atypical antipsychotics have limited approval for youths, but doctors are free to prescribe them as they see fit and often give them to children and adolescents, say analysts and psychiatrists.

Psychiatrists turned to the new drugs after they began going on sale in the 1990s because they didn’t cause involuntary facial tics and other problems, as an earlier generation of medicines did. Last year, the drugs collectively generated $14.6 billion in sales in the U.S., according to IMS Health. But a growing number of studies suggest they have their own side effects.

“The weight gain is much larger than we thought,” said Christoph Correll, the study’s lead author, who is a psychiatrist and a scientist at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y. “It’s massive, and it’s the medication” that caused it, he said.

The JAMA study, conducted in 272 youths ages 4 to 19 years, is the largest and most definitive to date to establish a link between the drugs and weight gain, the authors said. Unlike earlier studies, it looked only at patients who hadn’t previously taken the medicines.

The drugs examined were four top-selling atypical antipsychotics: Abilify, sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co.; Risperdal from Johnson & Johnson; Seroquel from AstraZeneca PLC; and Zyprexa from Eli Lilly & Co.

Zyprexa caused the most weight gain, the study found. Over 11 weeks of use, children on Zyprexa gained the most weight on average, nearly 19 pounds, or a 15% increase. The drug was also found to significantly raise levels of blood sugar, cholesterol, insulin and triglycerides, which can lead to diabetes and heart problems.

Patients taking the other three drugs gained from 10 to 13 pounds on average, according to the study. The impact on users’ blood sugar and other metabolic levels varied, depending on the drug.

The drugs’ makers say that the potential for increased weight gain is well known and that they have already updated labels to reflect possible side effects. Atypical antipsychotics are a valuable treatment option for severe mental illnesses, the companies add, and physicians and parents should weigh the risks from taking the medicines against the benefits.

Should the FDA approve Zyprexa’s use in adolescents, physicians should consider prescribing another drug first, a Lilly spokesman added.

In January, Lilly agreed to pay $1.42 billion to settle a federal probe into alleged improper marketing of Zyprexa. And other pharmaceutical companies have come under fire for allegedly promoting off-label uses of atypical antipsychotics and playing down the side effects.

The connection between the drugs and weight gain is poorly understood. As concerns about the side effects have mounted, prescriptions for children have slowed. Dr. Correll encouraged child psychiatrists to be even more careful about giving the drugs to youths and, when they do, to encourage a healthy diet and to check weight and metabolic levels every three months.

“The onset of the weight gain was so pronounced and so significant there’s probably an argument for doing those measurements every few weeks,” said Christopher Varley, a child psychiatrist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

The FDA will soon decide whether to approve younger patients’ use of Seroquel, Zyprexa and Geodon, another atypical antipsychotic. (Geodon wasn’t part of the study because it’s not often used in new patients and too few users enrolled in the trial, Dr. Corell said.) Each drug is currently FDA-approved for use by adults.

Predictions of colder-than-normal winter cause concern in Alabama

Predictions of colder winter cause concern

timesdaily.com | Oct 27, 2009

By Dennis Sherer

Mike Melton admits he is a little nervous about predictions a strengthening El Nino weather pattern will bring a colder-than-normal winter to north Alabama this year.

“If you look back at history, some of our worst ice storms and snow storms have come in El Nino years,” said Melton, director of the Colert County Emergency Management Agency.

An El Nino, a warming of water in the southern Pacific Ocean, can affect weather around the world, including in the Tennessee Valley where El Nino tends to make winters more harsh.

The last strong El Nino was 1997-98. Many Shoals residents spent Christmas 1998 in the dark after and ice storm knocked down power lines throughout northwest Alabama.

An ice storm that paralyzed the Shoals in 1994 also occurred during an El Nino period.

Mike Coyne, hematologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Huntsville, said long-range predictions call for increased moisture along the Gulf of Mexico this winter. If the moisture moves northward into the Tennessee Valley and combines with cold air, an ice or snow storm could occur.

While there is no reason to panic, Melton recommends area residents begin making preparations for coping with a prolonged power outage and other problems that can occur from winter storms, such as icy roads.