German government backs mandatory measles vaccine – anti-vaxxers weep

Good news for those of us who want to stop vaccine-preventable diseases – the German government has backed a bill for a mandatory measles vaccine for all children entering school or kindergarten. I’m sure the science-denying anti-vaccine crowd in Germany are angry

If the German parliament approves the bill, which is almost certain, parents will have to provide evidence that their child has received the measles vaccine before they are enrolled in school. If the parents have failed to do so, they will be subject to fines up to €2,500 ($2,800).

If this bill is passed, Germany will join France and Italy as the other European countries with a mandatory vaccines law. Many other European countries have such high vaccination rates that they have little need for mandatory measles vaccine, but I’m sure they are watching carefully considering the rather large measles epidemic that has hit Europe over the past year. 

The USA does not have a Federal mandatory measles vaccine law, but all 50 states and the District of Columbia require children to be fully vaccinated (according to the CDC immunization schedule, which includes the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella) before entering school. However, many states allow so-called “personal belief exemptions,” which allow parents to easily skip some or all vaccines based on whatever they want.

mandatory measles vaccine
German beer. Won’t do anything about measles. Photo by Stephan Mahlke on Unsplash

As a result, some states have either implemented or are considering strict laws to make certain that children entering school are fully vaccinated. California, Maine, New York, Washington, Mississippi, and West Virginia have mostly eliminated personal belief exemptions, only allowing medical exemptions, where the child has some contraindications to some vaccines. The German law also does the same – it only allows medical exemptions.

The German state of Brandenburg recently passed its own law instituting a mandatory measles vaccine for children entering kindergarten. The state government was concerned about Brandenburg’s relatively low measles vaccination rate, 72.5%, far below the 92.9% rate for the whole country.

The German government was motivated to consider a law because of pockets of anti-vaccine parents (like in the USA) along with Europe’s aforementioned measles epidemic. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control,  Germany has reported 429 measles cases for 2019 through June 14.
 
This bears repeating. The measles is easily prevented by a vaccine.
 

A quick measles primer

Measles (also called rubeola, not to be confused with rubella, or German measles, which despite its name, isn’t the issue in Germany) is a respiratory disease caused by the measles virus. Measles virus normally grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs.

The virus is spread through respiration (contact with fluids from an infected person’s nose and mouth, either directly or through aerosol transmission), and is highly contagious — 90% of people without immunity sharing living space with an infected person will catch it.

There are no specific treatments for the disease. There are no miracle preventions.

The oft-repeated, and highly inaccurate, claim that vitamin A supplements can cure or prevent measles completely misses the mark. It’s important to supplement with vitamin A to prevent blindness as a result of measles, but it doesn’t reduce mortality or prevent some neurological issues. Moreover, it is most useful in children with vitamin A deficiency, not exactly a major issue in well-fed children in developed countries.

Mandatory cute pet photo. A German Shepherd of course. Photo by Tahoe Beetschen on Unsplash
 

Why do we need mandatory measles vaccine?

Which leads me to remind everyone that measles is not a harmless disease, despite the false claims of the anti-vaccine religion. According to the CDC, some of the many measles complications are:

  • About 30% of measles cases develop one or more complications.
  • Pneumonia, which is the complication that is most often the cause of death in young children.
  • Ear infections occur in about 1 in 10 measles cases and permanent loss of hearing can result.
  • Diarrhea is reported in about 8% of cases.
  • As many as 1 out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia.
  • About 1 child in every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that can lead to convulsions, deafness, and other long-term neurological deficits.
  • A measles infection can result in short- and long-term immune system dysfunction which can leave the child susceptible to other diseases early in life (which is in direct opposition of claims by anti-vaccine activists that it helps “boost” the immune system.
  • About 1-2 children, out of 1000 who contract measles, may develop subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a rare chronic, progressive encephalitis that affects primarily children and young adults– it is caused by a persistent infection of the measles virusThe disease starts with measles infection, usually before the age of 2 years, followed by approximately 6-15 asymptomatic years. Some researchers think the asymptomatic period is around 5-8 years after the initial disease. Gradually, the disease progresses with psychological and neurological deterioration, which can include personality changes, seizures, and coma. It is always ultimately fatal.
  • And sadly, for every 1,000 children who get measles, 1 or 2 will die from it.

These measles complications are more common among children under 5 years of age and adults over 20 years old (usually those with lapsed immunity).

Even in previously healthy children, measles can be a serious illness requiring hospitalization. Measles also can make a pregnant woman have a miscarriage, give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby.

There is only one good way to prevent measles unless you want your child to live in a hermetically-sealed bubble forever – get the MMR vaccine.

Serious complications to measles can be as high as 3 out of every 10 children who get the disease. Serious complications from the MMR vaccine is approximately 1 out of every 1 million vaccine doses. The benefit to risk calculation is way over on the side of vaccines.

Summary

Measles is a dangerous, highly contagious disease that can permanently harm or even kill healthy children. It is not a disease that should be ignored.

The German mandatory measles vaccine law is what needs to be done to protect the children of the country. It is great that Germany is taking this step – I’m sure other countries will do the same.

Vaccines save lives. And the German government knows this and is moving to make sure every child is protected.

 

Germany could fine anti-vaccine parents if they refuse MMR vaccine

As a result of the widespread epidemic of measles in Europe and the USA, Germany has proposed a law that could fine anti-vaccine parents up to €2,500 (US$2,800) if they don’t vaccinate their children against measles. The law, if passed by the German parliament before the end of 2019, will take effect on 1 March 2022.

The law would make the MMR vaccine mandatory for all children attending nurseries and schools. It would also make it mandatory for all teachers, educators, and medical staff at hospitals and outpatient clinics.

Furthermore, the law requires that, by July 2020, parents registering their children for kindergartens or schools would need to either provide evidence that their children have received the measles vaccine (and possibly other vaccines, but I was unable to determine whether it would include all recommended vaccines) or have definitive proof of a medical exemption.

And this law is not going to affect only a small number of German anti-vaccine parents. According to the German Ministry of Health, there are approximately 361,000 non-vaccinated children along with about 220,000 adults (who would be covered by the new law).

The proposed law has broad support across political parties in Germany, except the left-wing Green Party which, of course, represents a large group of anti-vaccine parents. The Green Party candidate for the US President in 2016 was notoriously anti-vaccine, despite being a licensed physician. Continue reading “Germany could fine anti-vaccine parents if they refuse MMR vaccine”

SSPE – a dangerous complication from not getting the measles vaccine

One of the tropes of the anti-vaccine religion is that childhood diseases, like measles or whooping cough, are not dangerous. But real science tells us that measles complications, like SSPE (subacute sclerosing panencephalitis) and death, are not innocuous. The ignorance about measles puts our children at risk.

Sadly, some of these vaccine-denying parents have set up “pox parties” to deliberately expose their children to these diseases, because they believe that natural immunity is better than vaccine-induced immunity. Not only is that an appeal to nature fallacy, but it shows ignorance on how immunity works.  Continue reading “SSPE – a dangerous complication from not getting the measles vaccine”

Legal liability of antivaccination parents whose children infect others

One of my favorite TV programs is Law & Order:SVU, an American police procedural crime drama television series set in New York City. It usually bases episodes on real news stories, but putting some twist on them. And for fans of the show, it is addicting.

In the spring of 2009, an episode entitled Selfish aired. The plot was about an immature, irresponsible young mother who was assumed to have killed her child. In a major plot twist (and actually one that caught me by surprise), the coroner determines that the child died from measles, in what turned out to be an outbreak of the disease in fictional New York City.  The Assistant District Attorney then decides to prosecute the mother of the child who started the measles outbreak because she had refused to immunize her child for all of the reasons popularized by the vaccine deniers. Unfortunately, the producers of the show didn’t give us the full satisfaction of having that mother spend time in prison (and if one looked at the episode with even amateur legal eyes, it probably wasn’t going to happen). 

But the episode is popular with many of us on the pro-science side, and I have tweeted when the episode is on a rerun somewhere. Continue reading “Legal liability of antivaccination parents whose children infect others”

Vaccine denier – diseases eliminated by sanitation, not vaccines

And here we go again. Over the Memorial Day weekend, I was catching up on some reading, which sometimes leads me to reading pseudoscience claims of some random vaccine denier. In this case, it was an article that claimed that it had “irrefutable evidence” that diseases were eliminated by better sanitation rather than vaccination.

Well, I am always one to read up on “irrefutable evidence”, but it’s possible that my standard for “irrefutable evidence” is different than most others. And in fact, real science assumes that most evidence can be scientifically refuted, so it never speaks in such absolutes. So that’s hint #1 that I’m going to be disappointed. Continue reading “Vaccine denier – diseases eliminated by sanitation, not vaccines”

Measles complications–consequences of the anti-vaccine hysteria

Angelina at five, just before onset of SSPE

This article has been substantially updated, please go there. There is also another article about a separate measles/SSPE case in Italy.

One of the memes of the vaccine denialists is that childhood diseases, like measles or whooping cough, are not dangerous. In fact, some parents have set up “pox parties” to deliberately expose their children to these diseases, because anti-vaccine lunatics believe (with all evidence against their beliefs, typical of any science denialist) that natural immunity is better than a vaccine induced immunity. Not only is that an Appeal to Nature fallacy, but it shows ignorance on how immunity occurs.

Already this year, two children have died in the United States as a result of whooping cough. And there’s probably more, because of under-reporting.

Continue reading “Measles complications–consequences of the anti-vaccine hysteria”

Volcano in Germany is definitely not going to erupt soon

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the Laacher See, a caldera lake and potentially active volcano in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.  The Daily Mail, a UK tabloid, published a story stating that the volcano was ready to erupt soon.  Though there is plenty of evidence that the volcano is still active and may one day erupt, there is no evidence that it’s about to do so anytime soon. Continue reading “Volcano in Germany is definitely not going to erupt soon”

Huge volcano threatens Europe!!! Maybe not.

Although my interests center on medicine and biology, I have more than a professional hobbyist interest in geology, specifically vulcanism, the study of volcanoes (and not Spock).  So I peruse news stories about volcanic eruptions when they appear.  This week, a British newspaper, the Daily Mail, published a story entitled, Is a super-volcano just 390 miles from London about to erupt?  I suspect that the Daily Mail is one of Britain’s sensationalist newspapers, and this article would confirm it.

But let’s go over some of it’s points.  Yes, the Laacher See volcano did erupt about 12,900 years ago, and it was a rather large eruption, on the size of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.  Obviously, I was somewhat surprised that such a recent and large volcanic event happened in Europe.  If it did happen today, Europe would be devastated for years.  That eruption was massive, and one can find deep layers of ash throughout Central Europe up through to the North Sea.  It had a profound effect on weather patterns of the era, with effects happening within a few weeks.

The article uses as its evidence that the volcano erupts every 12,000 years, so it’s overdue (I suppose) for an eruption, and that there are some CO2 outgassing in the lake (which formed when the magma chamber collapsed after the most recent eruption).  If that’s their “evidence” for a future eruption, then we need to redefine what constitutes evidence.  In fact, as they say in the financial industry, past performance is not a guarantee of future results.  Furthermore, I could find no published, peer-reviewed support for a prediction of a new eruption.  In other words, the Daily Mail invented this prediction.

As for the CO2 bubbles in the lake, yes that happens in water over a magma chamber, but it is, by itself, not an indicator of impending doom.  However, the CO2 can be dangerous, of course, but that’s a biological issue not a prediction-of-eruption issue.

This is what bothers me about these kind of articles.  The internet, being the rather instant communication method that it is, transfers this information from one side of the planet to another.  Soon, I’ll be reading about it in what are supposed to be reasonable websites that monitor the world environmental issues.

Science journalism has a responsibility to actually provide accurate information.  Too many times I read articles published in news sites (probably higher quality than the Daily Mail) that wildly misinterpret medical or scientific articles.  I spend so much time debunking the overstating of what is said that if I could get paid for it, I’d have quite a career set up.  Wikipedia is notorious for this kind of sensationalism.

I can only hope that all the skeptics out there have an effect on this type of bad science journalism.  And London, you’re safe for now, though with the Olympics coming up, I may change my mind.