Samoa measles epidemic – vaccine deniers causing harm to children

samoa measles epidemic

Recently, the Samoa measles epidemic has been in the news, with at least 60 individuals who have died as the result of the virus (as of 4 December 2019). The vast majority of these deaths could have been prevented with the extremely safe measles vaccine.

Of course, those of us on the science side are appalled what is going on there. Children (and some adults) have died from a disease that should have been exiled to history books as a result of vaccines. 

Once this Samoa measles epidemic hit the news, the vaccine deniers came out of their putrid swamps to use the epidemic as some sort of condemnation of vaccines. Their twisted logic would be the envy of pretzel manufacturers worldwide.

This article is going to review what’s going on in Samoa. And we are going to take a look at a couple of responses and lies from the usual anti-vaccine pseudoscience. Continue reading “Samoa measles epidemic – vaccine deniers causing harm to children”

Dr. Jim Meehan anti-vaccine rant – examining his claims

Jim Meehan

An anti-vaccine doctor from Oklahoma, Dr. Jim Meehan, wrote an online post about why he would no longer vaccinate his children. It’s pretty clear that his post is not so much a discussion of his own children (most of whom are adults) as an attempt to deter other parents from protecting their children from preventable diseases. His post is basically a set of claims trying to convince parents that vaccinating is very dangerous.

His claims are nothing new – they are strictly out of the anti-vaccine playbook. But the post has received some attention in the anti-vaccine world and was shared several thousand times, likely because many people treat an MD as an authority on the subject. So I decided to take a few minutes to explain why his claims are not good reasons to reject expert opinion and not protect children from disease.

Dr. Meehan’s claims fall into several categories (which will be discussed individually below):

  1. The diseases we vaccinate against are not dangerous, and it’s okay, even good, to encounter them naturally.
  2. Vaccines have toxic ingredients.
  3. Vaccines are dangerous to children.
  4. The science behind vaccines is corrupt because the pharmaceutical industry controls it and then corrupts it.
  5. We should listen to him because he is a doctor and knows what he is talking about.

Note: Dr. Meehan’s post doesn’t present these claims in that order. I have changed the order because I want to address the claims in a logical order, that is, first his claims about vaccine safety, then the conspiracy theory that underlies them, and finally, his appeal to authorityContinue reading “Dr. Jim Meehan anti-vaccine rant – examining his claims”

Measles immune suppression – Tetyana Obukhanych cherry-picking

Recently, I wrote an article about measles immune suppression, a serious complication of the disease, and one of the great reasons to get the measles vaccine. According to two peer-reviewed articles, one published in the prestigious journal Science and the other article in a sister journal Science Immunology, researchers described that measles infections destroyed some immune memory cells, causing the individual to lose protection to some diseases.

Of course, the anti-vaccine zealots’ favorite false authority, Tetyana Obukhanych, decided to deny the solid scientific articles that established one of the well-known complications of measles. It’s not like anyone should take her babbling pseudoscience seriously, but just in case someone does, it’s important that we point out that Obukhanych is wrong once again. Continue reading “Measles immune suppression – Tetyana Obukhanych cherry-picking”

Measles damages the immune system – more reasons for MMR vaccine

measles damages the immune system

It’s been well known for years that measles damages the immune system, one of the many dangerous complications of the disease. That’s one of the many reasons why we are so strongly in favor of the MMR vaccine and so strongly against measles outbreaks.

Of course, the anti-vaccine zealots will continue to believe that “natural” measles infections will confer some super-immunity to their children. Many deliberately try to infect their kids with the disease.

However, this scientific research, published in one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed scientific journals on this planet, provides convincing evidence that measles damages the immune system. And we should make sure our children don’t contract this dangerous disease. Continue reading “Measles damages the immune system – more reasons for MMR vaccine”

US measles epidemic hits 1241 cases – get the MMR vaccine – UPDATED

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services have reported that the ongoing measles epidemic has, as of 19 September 2019, has resulted in 1241 cases in 31 states. This makes 2019 (which is around 9 months old) the worst year for measles since 1992, when there were 963 cases for all 12 months. 

At this rate, we can expect well over 1500 measles cases for 2019, making it the worst year since the major measles epidemics of the late 1980s. 

In 2000, the CDC had stated that measles was eradicated in the USA. But as a result of fears and misinformation about the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, vaccination rates have dropped allowing measles to again attack children. Continue reading “US measles epidemic hits 1241 cases – get the MMR vaccine – UPDATED”

Christopher Exley & aluminum adjuvants in vaccines – scientific critique

christopher exley

This article examines a recent commentary letter titled “An aluminium adjuvant in a vaccine is an acute exposure to aluminium” by Christopher Exley (Keele University, UK). Although the author may have several valid points, the presence of several logical flaws and the selective citation of the existing literature related to aluminum adjuvants safety is a concern, especially in times in which vaccine hesitancy and refusal have been defined by the World Health Organization as a global threat in 2019. Continue reading “Christopher Exley & aluminum adjuvants in vaccines – scientific critique”

Babies are safer in the Age of MMR Vaccine than Age of Measles

MMR vaccine

A recent recurrent claim in the anti-vaccine group is that the MMR vaccine puts babies at higher risk than they were before vaccines when measles outbreaks were large and frequent. The claim is that because vaccinated mothers transfer less immunity than mothers who had wild measles to their babies, babies are less well protected, and hence more at risk. This matters, because rates of complications are higher in babies than others. 

The anti-vaccine claim is incorrect and deeply morally problematic. It’s incorrect because the difference in immunity between vaccinated mothers and mothers who had measles is real, but not huge; and because even if babies of vaccinated mothers are more likely to get measles if exposed, babies were much more likely to be exposed before vaccines.

It’s morally troubling because it assumes that it is acceptable – even desirable – to sacrifice girls to measles so that the survivors will serve to protect their future babies. Embedded in this assumption is a view that girls matter less, or that girls’ importance is in their role as future mothers, not individuals. Continue reading “Babies are safer in the Age of MMR Vaccine than Age of Measles”

Dr. Robert Sears vaccine info misleads parents about measles

robert sears vaccine

Dr. Robert Sears vaccine info is false and misleading. On January 16, 2015, Sears, who refers to himself as Dr. Bob, is a California pediatrician and author of a controversial book on vaccines (critiqued here, pdf, or here by the fine folks at Science-Based Medicine).

He wrote in his Dr. Bob’s Daily and published on his Facebook page that measles is only rarely fatal in developed countries and that serious complications are rare. (In the likely event that Dr. Sears decides to delete his misleading comments, it’s archived here permanently.) 

And they were irresponsible. In a way that can put people – including children, including his patients – at serious risk. This is not the first time Dr. Bob Sears has made inaccurate claims about a vaccine-preventable disease, but on the background of the current measles outbreaks, the risk from his behavior is more imminent and more obvious. It is appropriate to react. Continue reading “Dr. Robert Sears vaccine info misleads parents about measles”

Natural immunity – more vaccine denier pseudoscience with no merit

natural immunity

“Natural immunity” is the trope du jour of the anti-vaccine world – they want us to believe that contracting a dangerous pathogen is somehow better than preventing that disease with a vaccine. Their pseudoscientific beliefs rely upon logical fallacies, a complete misunderstanding of how the immune system works, and a healthy dose of bad math.

In other words, the same old same old from our anti-vaxxer “friends.”

The purpose of this article is to discuss why natural immunity is a bogus concept when it comes to vaccines. I need to make one warning upfront – immunology is complicated and cannot be described in 1000 words or less. So, I’m going to do a lot of linking to good articles that describe various things about the immune system.

But here we go – hang on for some science. Continue reading “Natural immunity – more vaccine denier pseudoscience with no merit”

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.