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Home » Sharyl Attkisson and measles vaccine math – wrong in so many ways

Sharyl Attkisson and measles vaccine math – wrong in so many ways

One of the favorite tropes of the anti-vaccine religion is their odd reliance on the ridiculous anti-vaccine math, including some pushed by Sharyl Attkisson, a favorite nemesis of the old feathered dinosaur. Attkisson believes that kids who have been vaccinated against the measles are more likely to get measles than those who are not vaccinated.

Yes, the anti-vaxxers actually believe this nonsense and promote it across the internet as an “argument” against the measles vaccine, despite numerous measles outbreaks that have dire consequences for children.

For those of you who don’t know about Sharyl Attkisson, she’s a former CBS newsperson who has headed down the black hole of the anti-vaccine movement. She retreads old anti-vaccine tropes, like lame conspiracy theories – Attkisson, according to Orac, “through her promotion of antivaccine conspiracy theories, Sharyl Attkisson was, is, and will continue to be a danger to children and public health.”

So Attkisson’s anti-vaccine trope of the day is this pseudo-math (probably not a real word, but I’m going to use it for this article) about vaccines. Not only are her claims based on fake data, but those claims also rely upon the complete misuse of simple math and statistics. 

sharyl attkisson
This is simple math. Anti-vaxxers ought to learn it. Credit: Chris Liverani
@chrisliverani at Unsplash.

Sharyl Attkisson – getting it all wrong

Let’s start right at the beginning. Attkisson claims that vaccinated children are more at risk from measles than unvaccinated children. 

She claims that, in New York, 93 out of 124 children who contracted the measles were vaccinated. Vincent Iannelli, MD, at Vaxopedia, points out that those numbers are fake, but we’ll assume that Attkisson got her numbers right because I want to make a point. 

Occasionally, measles outbreaks do show higher measles numbers in vaccinated children, although generally, that doesn’t happen. However, her fake data does not actually show a higher incidence rate. Those bolded terms are completely different, in case you are keeping score.

The anti-vaccine crowd uses the raw number to compare vaccinated and unvaccinated populations, trying to invent an “ah-ha” moment, then dancing on the graves of children who might die from measles.

Of course, that is not the appropriate statistical method used to examine the difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated children. 

Because the 124 children who contracted measles were in Rockland County, New York, we can use the numbers there to show you why the incidence rate matters, not the raw numbers.

According to the US Census Bureau, there are around 91,754 children in Rockland County between the ages of 0 and 18, the target population for the MMR vaccine (against measles, mumps, and rubella). We could be picky, and tease out the numbers for children who are 0-1 years old because they usually don’t get the vaccine, but for the purposes of this analysis, but that’s not going to impact the calculation in any manner.

According to CDC statistics, 92.5% of New York children are vaccinated with the MMR vaccine. That means 84,873 are vaccinated and 6,881 are not. Now, let’s look at the incidence using the fake numbers from Sharyl Attkisson:

  • The incidence rate for measles cases in vaccinated children is 93 out of 84,873 or 0.11%.
  • The incidence rate for measles cases in unvaccinated children is 31 out of 6,881 or 0.45%, or at least 4X higher.

This is how we do an analysis between the two groups. Even though the population of measles cases appears to be higher in the vaccinated population, that’s only because the population is nearly 9X higher than the unvaccinated population. 

Sharyl Attkisson gets this so wrong, she ought to resign from the internet, go back to high school, and learn some real math, statistics, and, just for good measure, a bit of epidemiology.

But there’s more. Most measles outbreaks actually show higher numbers for infections in unvaccinated children than vaccinated children, a statistical fact that is conveniently ignored by the anti-vaccine crowd, including by Attkisson. 

Dr. Iannelli took a look at the measles outbreak in Washington State (why am I writing about vaccines, I should let him do all the work, and I can focus on spending my Big Pharma Shill Bucks™) – he found that out of 42 measles cases, precisely 1 was in a vaccinated child. One. The measles incidence rate is probably 20-30X higher in unvaccinated than vaccinated children in that particular outbreak. 

Of course, one can ask a legitimate question – why are there any measles cases at all in vaccinated children? Well, that’s easy. The MMR vaccine is about 97% effective after two doses. In a large outbreak among unvaccinated individuals, it puts that 3% of vaccinated children at risk of measles along with all of those at-risk unvaccinated kids.

Only those who follow the Nirvana fallacy, that is, if it’s not perfect it’s worthless, think that a 97% effective vaccine is useless. Or that getting the measles gives better immunity to the disease (it is probably only marginally better), in spite of the horrible and frequent complications from the disease. Yes, horrible

sharyl attkisson
Not quite simple math, but still fairly easy. Probably over the heads of anti-vaxxers. Credit: Antoine Dautry @antoine1003 at Unsplash.


Sharyl Attkisson once had the temerity to call this old dinosaur an astrofurfer (I prefer natural turf for all sports). Whatever I am, at least I like sticking with facts, science, and good math and statistics. Attkisson pulls numbers out of the thin air, then tweets it out to her ignorant followers. 

Her sycophants slobber at the numbers as if those numbers were handed down by the Q to Captain Picard.  But Attkisson is so ignorant of basic statistics, she fails to realize that even her fake numbers show how much more unvaccinated children are at risk to measles and its potentially devastating consequences.

Despite the fake statistics from the anti-vaccine gang, it is clear – unvaccinated children are more at risk from measles than vaccinated children. This is not a debate. It is not a discussion. It is a fact.


Michael Simpson

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