Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Measles and Vaccines

by Kit

After over a decade-and-a-half of anti-MMR vaccine activism by celebrities, quack doctors, and (some) politicians the moment that many epidemiologists and pro-vaccine watchers of the movement feared has come true. In Disneyland a group of unvaccinated children contracted it and it has spread like wildfire. A headline for the Los Angeles Times gives us some idea of what has happened: “California measles: baby diagnosed, infants quarantined, day care shut.”

In California there are 92 case of Measles and “Cases connected to the California-centered outbreak have been confirmed in Arizona (five), Utah (three), Washington state (two), Michigan (one), Oregon (one), Colorado (one), Nebraska (one) and Mexico (two).” One of the California cases was a 12-month old infant, which is too young to be vaccinated for the virus.

The incubation period can last up to a little over two weeks so we may have to wait to see how big this thing grows but it appears the only thing that may stop it from actually killing people is the country’s 92% rate. Though that still leaves about 24,000,000 people unvaccinated for a disease with a mortality rate of 1/1000. And even if it does not kill can leave you permanently blind or deaf. Because of the vaccine, however, which is injected twice, first when you are 1 year-old and again when you are about 5 or 6, the US was declared Measles-free in 2000.

However, in 1998, the British journal Lancet published a study by British doctor Andrew Wakefield claiming that the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine can be linked to autism. Though not a single study by any other group has been able replicate these results and a British newspaper’s investigative report revealing numerous discrepancies and outright lies resulting in Dr. Wakefield losing his medical license (making him “Mr. Wakefield”), it has caught on like wildfire garnering support from celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and Oprah Winfrey.

Anyway, the result of all this was a decrease in MMR immunizations, first in Britain then in America with immunization rates in certain Southern California schools lower than South Sudan. This meant a few years ago Britain saw a sharp uptick in Measles cases, including a few deaths (and a sharp increase in immunization rates from 89% in 2011 to 95% in 2014). Then last year, the US had 400 Measles cases and now we have a major outbreak centered around a major theme park and over 100 cases in a single month.

Since, as said above, children under a certain age those with immunity problems stemming from medical conditions or treatments like chemotherapy cannot be vaccinated that means infants and kids with leukemia are at risk because of Dr.— excuse me, Mr. Wakefield and his supporters.

As for Mr. Wakefield, despite Lancet revoking the paper and him losing his medical license in the UK, has developed a fiercely loyal following consisting of Christian fundamentalists, “all-natural” crunchy hippies, and, most infuriatingly, parents of children with autism searching desperately for some kind of answer with many anti-MMR advocates pushing “cures” as a means of removing the toxins that they claim caused autism. These include bathing in epsom salts, enzyme supplements, large vitamin doses, and bleach enemas. I wished I was making that last one up.

Unfortunately, this means that Mr. Wakefield’s debunked claims are not the province of one political party but firmly bipartisan with (thankfully few) supporters on both sides, including Robert Kennedy, Jr. and a Republican congressman and others willing to play it up for political gain (such as Obama in 2008). A Washington Post article described it as “uniting the tea party with limousine liberals”. The only time members of one party will push it more seems to be when they are out of power. The Democrats pushed it during the Bush era as proof of Big Pharma caring more about greed and profits than people while certain “genuine conservatives” have pushed it as proof of big government sticking needles into little kids. The want of power caused by the lack of it seems to have quite an impact on a person’s susceptibility to (or willingness to support) crackpot ideas.

And the fanaticism of these advocates needed to have been seen to be believed. When Dr. Paul Offit published his book Autism’s False Prophets, he and his publisher decided to cancel the book tour due to death threats and hate mail. When British writer Theodore Dalrymple, a conservative has written extensively on his time as a Doctor serving some of Britain’s poorest citizens and the afflictions of the Welfare State, published a column at City Journal criticizing the anti-vaccine movement the comments section of his article and his mail box were quickly inundated with accusations that he was receiving money from major pharmaceutical companies for promoting his pro-vaccine views. No proof was needed or offered except (1) he was a medical Doctor and (2) he was pro-vaccine. The anti-vaccine lobby operated on the assumption that anyone opposed to them was hurting children in order to make some money, which allowed them to think their enemies the most vile and evil human beings on the planet. Offit mentioned special vile aimed towards parents of autistic children who supported vaccination (which is where the majority actually stand). After all, what king of mother would support such wicked abuse of her own child?

But now appears to be a massive backlash against the anti-vaccine movement and, despite claims of some in the left-wing media, that open support for vaccination is firmly bi-partisan with Rubio, Jindal, Walker, Cruz, Ben Carson et al announcing their support for vaccination. Several congressman spent half a hearing this morning intended for influenza promoting the measles vaccine. Even Christie said vaccines are wise, only parting on whether or not they should be mandatory. Only one major politician has made statements leaning towards anti-vaccination; Rand Paul. Just about everyone else is firmly pro-vaccine. And, irony of ironies, anti-vaccine advocates are now complaining of anger thrown at them over the measles epidemic.

Edmund Burke once said “Example is the school of mankind and he will learn at no other,” C.S. Lewis said “Experience is a brutal teacher but by God do you learn.” Measles is proving a brutal teacher and a harsh school for America on the importance of childhood vaccinations and the folly of forgoing them on the basis of a lone quack doctor appealing to our fears and a celebrity mom’s opinion about what caused her child’s autism.

Now, on one final note. Jenny McCarthy, whenever someone pointed out that the science supports the pro-vaccine argument she would respond by saying “My son is my science.” Since the Measles epidemic hit, a 1986 pamphlet written by Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach, about the death of his daughter Olivia from the Measles in 1962 (before the vaccine was available). It is as if he is coming from the grave an responding to Jenny McCarthy by saying, “My science is my dead daughter!”

I think it is worth posting an excerpt:
Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn't do anything.

"Are you feeling all right?" I asked her.

"I feel all sleepy," she said.

In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.

The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.

You can find the full link here: LINK.


Kit said...

I did not go into the science of the debate that much. Doing so might've doubled the length of the 1,000 word post.

Penn and Teller goes into the logic behind the anti-vaccine crowd, even assuming they are right about autism.

If you want more in-depth check out Dr. Paul Offit's books Autism's False Prophets and Deadly Choices.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, an excellent article! Thank you.

This is an issue that bothers me because it lets arrogant stupid people endanger other people. I firmly believe that for anything that is potentially highly contagious and has a risk of death, deformity, retardation of some form, or other serious injury, I am 100% in favor of mandatory vaccination.

For less serious diseases, i.e. things that are rare here (ebola) or have low contagion rates (AIDS) or don't really cause anything too serious (irritable bowel virus), I think it should be up to the parents.

But we should not let idiots allow deadly and dangerous diseases come back from the dead and hurt people.

tryanmax said...

My only 2 cents is that, while I didn't know the signs at the time, I can look back and confidently assert that my daughter displayed the early indications well before receiving any vaccines. Researchers are now looking into ways to identify autism before birth, something they wouldn't even bother with if vaccines had anything to do with it.

Rustbelt said...

Excellent info, Kit! (And really good use of quotes by genuine wise men, as always.)

Interestingly, my brother and I were discussing this very thing this afternoon. He ranted and couldn't believe that a virus like that could make a comeback all because of anti-vaccination morons. He demanded mandatory vaccinations. Maybe it was the libertarian in me, but I just groaned and said 'let 'm choose.' I don't know if it was my opposition to giving government power over our health, or if I'm just a jaded, burned-out bum whose attitude is, "if they want to get sick, let 'em. Let's see how much they hate vaccines while lying in their hospital bed."

But honestly, after reading your article, I'm with Andrew on mandatory vaccinations for certain viruses, though not weak or rare ones.

And that anti-vaccination crowd is definitely nuts. Once, I was working on the morning news show script, (I was putting the finishing touches on a later half hour), and I looked at the monitor to watch our live on-location reporter. I forget what she was reporting on, probably an upcoming election or snow storm. (I think she was in one of Pittsburgh's border-ghetto areas.) But while she was reporting, some nut driving a pimpmobile slowed down just long enough next to the satellite truck to stick his head out and yell, "Tell the truth about vaccines!!!" We all just looked at each and went, "what??" Oh, the perils of live shots.

Kit said...

"My only 2 cents is that, while I didn't know the signs at the time, I can look back and confidently assert that my daughter displayed the early indications well before receiving any vaccines."

Numerous studies agree with your observations. Non-autistic infants look at the eyes of an adult speaking while autistic infants look at the mouth. Creating a child is a game of Russian Roulette. And I think a lot of people are drawn to these claims because it offers an easy-to-understand and avoidable reason. Even if the science is bunk.

I also pointed to certain groups that have pushed it and the "remedies" they prescribed. One group in particular has been Autism Speaks which, and maybe it's just me, but they have done ads painting autism in such dark colors that it appears (to me) to resemble a demonic possession more than a mere disorder. Which I think is probably an exaggeration.

A depiction that I guess is probably an exaggeration.

Kit said...


I definitely understand the impulse to say "if they want to get sick, let 'em. Let's see how much they hate vaccines while lying in their hospital bed."

Even I have been on the fence at times about this. But I come down with Andrew. Some diseases are a public health issue. And I think Measles is one of them. The consequences, even if they don't always kill, are so dangerous and so contagious that there is some need for government intervention. Preferably state and local level, though. Which is where most of the laws on this do (and should) exist.

Interestingly, Mississippi has the highest vaccination read. Neither schooling nor measles are major problems for them. :)

Now, if say a fundamentalist Mormon sect that decides to go to the remotest part of Montana and live like they did in the days of Joseph Smith then they can turn down all forms of vaccination and modern medicine for all I care. But if you are going to live among society then there are certain responsibilities.

"Oh, the perils of live shots" indeed. :)

Critch said...

Old graveyards are full of dead babies because they died from mundane things like chickenpox, measles, whooping cough, and tetanus. My dad had 6 siblings, but only three lived to be 18, then the Spanish flu killed his 18 year old brother.

Kit said...


One friend on Facebook mentioned being scared to death of polio as a kid.

BevfromNYC said...

Critch - Exactly right - There are generations who have been lost to what we now know to be preventable diseases just through the simple act of vaccinations. Since babies and small chilren don't die from these diseases anymore in the US (or rarely) we have forgotten how devastating it could be. Children used to die by the thousands in the US. Before 1980 when widespread vaccinations began, an estimated 2.6 million children died yearly (from WHO)

Small Pox has been eradicated from the face of the Earth except for two small vials because of vaccine developed in the 18th Century.

Polio once devastated families up and left children and at least one President confined to iron lungs or wheel chairs until nationwide vaccinations programs started in the early 50's Polio is now all but a distant memory in the US. Btw, My generation was the first to be fully protected from polio,

Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Whooping Cough were rare as of last year in the US when it started roaring back - 97 last year 600 this year so far. Well, until the "Only Organic, Wrap my Precious in Cotton, and Trophies for Participation" crowd of helicopter parents decided it was not worth the trouble or the remote possibility of injury tha tittle Billy get those nasty Big Pharma vaccinations that all they do is make money for Big Corporate Fat Cats. And the reason it has roared back is, unlike Smallpox, these diseases are alive and well in other parts of the world.

Oh, the other issue is Rubella or German Measles - devasting birth defects cause by women being exposed to or contradting Rubella aka German Measles while pregnant (all but eradicated in the US by vaccine) -

Key facts from WHO -

Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.

In 2013, there were 145 700 measles deaths globally – about 400 deaths every day or 16 deaths every hour.

Measles vaccination resulted in a 75% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide.

In 2013, about 84% of the world's children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 73% in 2000.

During 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.

"...The disease remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. Approximately 145 700 people died from measles in 2013 – mostly children under the age of 5."
WHO link

This makes me very angry at the stupidity of those who pretend to value "science" above all else when it comes to "Climate Change".

Kit said...


And now they are trying to pin the GOP as the source of the anti-vaccine ideology. Despite this modern view being pushed largely by the Left during the 00s. Which, what do you know? Is precisely when most of these kids were probably due to receive their shots.

In fact, Dr. Offit and other pediatricians complained constantly about the media giving anti-vaccine people a lot of air-time.

BevfromNYC said...

Kit - Unfortunately it does not help when Rand Paul and Chris Christie go all Libertarian about how parents have the right to choose whether to vaccinate. Idiots and dangerous idiots at that. And Rand Paul is freakin' a DOCTOR!!!!

Btw, the "religious right" who do not vaccinate are mostly Christian Scientists and they have never vaccinated with no real effect to the population at large. It's the Jenny McCarthy-ish Hollywood Liberals who have gone all global terrorists out of self-righteous stupidity about parental consent to vaccinations yet see no problem with forcing schools to supply birth control pills without parental consent...again - THIS INFURIATES ME!!!!

Tennessee Jed said...

In her book "Stonewalled". Sharyl Attkinson tells the story of Dr. Julie Gerberding, former head of C.D.C. During her term, she secretly agreed to pay a huge settlement to the family of Hannah Poling, a child who developed autism after receiving multiple vaccinations. her point was not so much whether the suit was valid (we no know it apparently is not) but rather that a public servant kept the information from becoming public, helping to protect Big Pharma from scrutiny. When her tenure in government ended, Dr. Gerberding got am extremely lucrative job as President of vaccines for Merck. Just another example of how big government and big corporate money work together to screw the American Public.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, I definitely lean libertarian on most issues, but my libertarianism is premised on the idea that you can do whatever stupid thing you want to yourself,but you can't hurt other people or impose the costs of your stupidity on others. So for me, it makes sense to draw the line where you are turning your kid into a potential plague-carrier.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, What annoys me is that this isn't a partisan issue. This is a fringe issue, with the fringes of both sides buying into it. Yet, the MSM is putting out articles about this being the "new gay marriage issue for the GOP." Bullship. This is normal people versus retards left, right and center, and to single this out as a GOP issue both partisan BS and highly dangerous because it acts like misdirection at the real problem.

Kit said...


Some doctors were expressing concern over this being made into a partisan issue. They are afraid some people will see pro-vaccine politicians using it to sneer and attack the other side and it might make them reflexively anti-vaccine.

BevfromNYC said...

What annoys me is that this isn't a partisan issue.

Andrew - Of Course this isn't a partisan issue. It's a PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE!!!! This is just like AIDS all over again. Instead of trying to stop the virus from spreading, the gay community spent all of it's time condemning the right of being homophobic when pointing out that (scientifically speaking) the overwhelming number of infections were in....sexually active gay and bisexual men. They wasted too much time condemning (on both sides) and not enough action in trying to stop the spread of the virus.

This time it will be mostly children under 5 who get to be permanently disabled or dead before these idiots wise up. And if and when they do wise up, they will try and find someone to sue. Frankly, I think parents whose children are harmed by association with a voluntarily unvaccinated child should sue...

Critch said...

My brother Mike had polio when he was 3. Mom said they had him and the 50 other little kids in a big ward and they would tie them down to the beds so their muscles wouldn't atrophy. Mike was lucky, he's 66 now. He walks with a limp, many of those kids didn't make it. These vocal fringe idiots, and I know many of them in both political parties, are morons...

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I wish they could sue. That would put an end to the promotion of junk science.

Critch, Agreed. Unfortunately, the people who back this kind of garbage rarely know anyone who died of any of these old diseases, so they don't get how dangerous their garbage is.

Kit, Politicizing what should be a question of public safety can only be bad.

Kit said...

"Politicizing what should be a question of public safety can only be bad."

Yep. But that won't stop the Left.

AndrewPrice said...

Never does because for all their talk of caring etc., the left doesn't care about actual people.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, this (LINK) is why I can't stand either the Patriots or the Seahawks. Both are low class poor sports. This isn't appropriate anywhere.

tryanmax said...

I think it's amazing that there's even a chicken pox vaccine now. I know it can be deadly in rare cases, but for most of us it was just an annoyance--and one that my kids will never know.

(Incidentally, I still have a small c-pox scar on the bride of my nose, a slight divot where a particularly large welt once sprouted. I believe it was the poet John Rzeznik who said, "Scars are souvenirs you never lose.")

The bonus for kids that get the c-pox vaccine is that they never have to worry about shingles, which affects around half of all seniors. It's a disease eradication twofer, provided the anti-vaccers but out.

BevfromNYC said...

Tryanmax - I went to a new doctor recently for a routine physical. She looked at my left arm and saw a scar. She asked what the scar was from. As she was probably too young to even know, I laughed and said "Well, that ages me. That's the scar from my small pox vaccination." Then she went about advising of all the stuff I have to do "as a woman of your age"..."Woman of my age". What the heck is THAT supposed to mean?? Hurrumph...that's another story. ;-)

Koshcat said...

Great article. Unfortunately, social issues will alway creep into public health issues. AIDS is a great example. If I was exposed to bodily fluid from a patient, I can force them to be tested for hepatitis but I still have to ask (by law) if I can test for HIV. Fortunately, it has gotten better where no one refuses the test any more but there was a time when many would.

The problem with pertussis probably had to do with the vaccine itself. The older vaccine was more effective but had more side effects. The newer one is better tolerated but it seems to lose effectiveness over time.

I'm ok when there is debate about whether a disease and vaccine rises to the level of a danger to public health, for example, Gardasil. The problem is most of the arguments start falling into personal attacks and hyperbole. The nut jobs know you won't get people's attention unless you make wild claims.

Bleach enemas? Do you get the side benefit of anal bleaching as well? I'm always amazed on what some people will stick up their butt.

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