Fake news and the spreading of measles

“Fake news” isn’t my favourite term for the disinformation spread by antivaccinationists. However it conveys a meaning that is usefully accurate when it comes to labelling deception spread with the aim of misrepresenting the facts about vaccines.

The narrator in the US video below asks the question, “Is fake news making people sick?”. He notes that the country has broken a 25 year old record for measles cases this year. At the time of making the video there were over 700 cases across 22 states since the beginning of 2019. In states where population density is high we can expect to see the impact of vaccine induced immunity and herd immunity (or the lack thereof) in their unmistakably predictable manner.

New York city has had over 400 cases since October 2018. Some – not all – members of the orthodox Hasidic Jewish community have been avoiding vaccines. The narrator tells us this is due to “rampant misinformation around vaccines”, even though the orthodox community “overwhelmingly” believes in vaccines. One woman seems to doubt vaccine safety and efficacy. She argues that “some people question why would I subject my three year old to toxins when it’s not going to protect him or her”.

There is an increase in insular socialising habits in close orthodox communities. This ensures the successful spread of misinformation by The Vaccine Safety Handbook. Packed with the most well constructed vaccine myths, it targets these communities with well debunked anti-vaccine conspiracies, codswallop and even commentary from rabbis, specific to Jewish religious law.

WhatsApp groups have been set up to push anti-vaccine disinformation further, with some orthodox members reporting that their only source of news is via WhatsApp.

If this reminds you of the Somali community in Minnesota in 2017 and 2011, you’re not alone. 80% of reported measles cases in 2017 were of Somali children whose parents had been convinced of the risk between autism and MMR. It was the largest measles outbreak for 30 years.

What’s this got to do with orthodox Jews in New York? Well I mentioned the insular nature of close communities. In an article headed Minnesota’s measles outbreak is what happens when anti-vaxxers target immigrants, it is noted some of these Somali Americans had concerns about higher than average rates of autism amongst their children. This entire episode is indicative of the impact that calculated disinformation can have. Particularly when provided in an area of uncertainty and despite the effort and funding from health experts and government authorities.

In 2008 Somali parents stressed that there appeared to be more 3-4 year old Minnesota Somali children enrolled in the public preschool special education program for Autism Spectrum Disorder, compared to the overall percentage of Somali children enrolled in public schools [page 4].

Also a couple of years before this time MMR vaccine coverage had started to decrease in Minnesota-born Somali children from 2006 at which time rates had been above 90% [Figure 2].

Cultural differences meant that the most genuine efforts to assist the Somali-American community with this issue proved difficult. There is no word in Somali for “autism”. Indeed there is no grey area as one Somali parent put it. Mental health is seen as either “crazy” or “sane”, and this leads to the fear that a child may be called an unhelpful name within the community. A name used behind the parents’ back [page 4].

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) worked to re-examine enrollment data for pre-school aged children in the special education program. The results were published in a report which tended to focus on participation rates only. The report [pp 4-5];

…did not attempt to measure the true occurrence of ASD in all children, and it did not attempt to identify possible causes or risk factors for ASD. Instead, the focus was on developing a better understanding of reported differences in program participation rates among preschool-aged children enrolled in this MPS program.

The three main findings in the report confirmed parent’s observations and also raised questions as to better outreach services to Somali children vs genuinely higher levels of ASD, compared to non-Somali children accessing ASD services outside of the MPS. The proportion of Asian and Native American children participating in ASD programs was significantly lower. The cause for this remained elusive. Participation rate differences between Somali pre-school children and pre-school children from other ethnic backgrounds decreased “substantially” over the three years studied. The basis for this final point remained unclear.

Following the 2009 MDH report advocates for the Somali community called for further research. The CDC, NIH and Autism Speaks provided technical assistance and funding to the University of Minnesota. The aim was to focus on ASD in Minnesota and within Somali vs non-Somali communities. The MDH and the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration added in-kind staff and funding.

Still, we need to remember that it was 2008 when Somali parents first raised their concerns about ASD with the Minnesota Department of Health.

Enter disgraced fraud, data falsifier and ex-gastroenterologist, Andrew Wakefield, who was struck off the U.K.’s General Medical Council 21 years ago and the many-faced Organic Consumers Association. Wakefield targetted and set about convincing Minnesota’s Somali Community that MMR could not be trusted as health authorities claimed. It caused autism he lied. The rumour spread through the community. During the 2017 measles outbreak Wakefield insisted he didn’t feel responsible at all.

In short Wakefield and fellow antivaccinationists spread his anti-vaccine lies with the result that MMR vaccination fell in the Somali community for a number of years. Immigration status can be a risk factor with respect to immunisation status and this fact played very well into the hands of antivaccinationists.

Nonetheless, no vaccines cause autism.

It’s important to remember, and realise, how much damage antivaccinationists can do to public health. Yes, “fake news” is making people sick. Cities with high density and insular communities that are convinced to skip vaccination will constantly face the possibility of outbreaks. The anti-vaccine lobby and their minions will continue to spread misinformation and where possible it must be refuted.

I read a comment recently dismissing the need for any vaccine and contending that only three people had died since 2000. Forgetting that this US citizen is ignoring the rest of the world, it is just such complacency that helps drive the luxurious nonsense that vaccines are more harmful than the diseases they prevent.

Because after all, in the developed world vaccines are a victim of their own success.

 

 

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Measles outbreaks are due to low vaccination rates and antivaccinationists

The video below is from the USA. The reasons it lists for the increase in measles cases there however, apply directly to Australia.

First however I want to draw attention to the screenshot from the video. Note the high number of fatalities. In the USA measles killed around 500 children per year during the 1950’s. Also pay attention to the drop in measles cases after the 1963 introduction of the measles vaccine.

In Australia a live attenuated measles vaccine was first licenced in 1968. Since then according to the Department of Health, “the burden of measles has substantially fallen in Australia”.

Measles cases USA – Source: CDC

You may be thinking, “But… I’ve seen graphs showing a huge decline in vaccine preventable diseases before vaccines were even introduced”. Yes, yes you have… kind of. What the anti-vaccine lobbyists did to create those misleading graphs is to firstly plot mortality rate (fatalities), and not morbidity (cases). Their argument is that diet, personal and public sanitation alone controlled vaccine-preventable disease and that vaccination had no effect.

Health professionals agree that sanitation and nutrition is vital to health. Cleaner cities, homes, personal hygeine and a varied diet play a large role in keeping us healthy, aiding in recovery and in fighting off the effects of disease. Including mortality caused by disease. But the incidence, or morbidity of disease is not reduced anywhere near as dramatically. So to discredit vaccines antivaccinationists would plot mortality and not morbidity of disease.

More so, they crammed many years horizontally and a comparatively small number of fatalities vertically. This had the effect of squeezing data in so tightly that individual bars vanished and were replaced with a single contoured shape that seemed to hit zero well before vaccines were introduced. With an accompanying narrative or explanatory text the listener or reader was easily fooled into “seeing” diseases dwindle away long before vaccines were introduced.

And the best trick was to emphasize, in the true Viera Scheibner and Judy Wilyman fashion, that it’s all government data to begin with. So it must be true. But it never was. It was and is a lie. A dangerous lie that hides the truth of how dangerous vaccine-preventable diseases are and how permanent are the injuries and disabilities for many of those who contract them.

The rumour that Donald Trump would be supporting the anti-vaccine lobby and financing vaccine conspiracy theorist, Robert F. Kennedy, is all but dust. Just three days ago when asked about the measles outbreak he replied, “They have to get the shot. The vaccinations are so important. This is really going around now, they have to get their shot”.

The Australian Department of Health has a page dedicated to the current measles outbreak, Measles Outbreak 2019. It was updated two weeks ago and includes;

Anyone who is not fully vaccinated against measles is at risk of becoming infected when traveling overseas. You may also risk exposing others to this highly infectious, serious illness either while travelling, or when you return to Australia.

Measles is a very contagious viral illness that causes a skin rash and fever in some cases. Measles can cause serious, sometimes fatal, complications including pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Measles spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes and another person breathes in the droplets from the air, or touches the droplets and then touches their nose or mouth.

Measles remains a common disease in many parts of the world, including areas of Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa, with outbreaks often occurring.

In Australia, the majority of measles cases are due to unvaccinated individuals becoming infected while travelling to countries in which measles is either common or there are outbreaks occurring. As measles is highly contagious, these people can then spread the disease to others, causing outbreaks, often before they are aware that they have the virus.

Why Measles Is Back In The US

Don’t be fooled by claims that antivaccinationists are not to blame. That we must accept socioeconomic and language hurdles are placing a considerable downward pressure on vaccination numbers. The increased use of social media has been a boon to antivaccinationists. From spreading misinformation, to organising events to raising money and making their entire gig easier we must accept they continue to ruin lives and public health strategy.

No doubt there are socioeconomic problems that play a role. But not the role. That argument is partial evidence denial at best. In fact social media should be used more skillfully to address problems faced by members of our community who are struggling to meet vaccination schedule requirements due to genuine hurdles.

Social scientists interested in vaccination and/or resistance to vaccination may have much to offer in addressing socioeconomic hurdles to vaccination via social media.

Busting Vaccine Myths

Over on Stories from the trauma bay DocBastard has collated and canned seventy three falsehoods used by the anti-vaccination movement to aid their spread of vaccine misinformation.

Whether it’s vaccinated vs unvaccinated, too many too soon, deceptive reliance on VAERS data, toxins, herd immunity, aborted fetal cells, package inserts, Bill Gates, the renaming of Polio, Mr. Wakefield, heavy metals and/or many, many other anti-vax lies you’re interested in it may well be there.

He has included a frightfully helpful table of topics anchor linked to the relative paragraph. You can also follow @DocBastard on twitter.

Ooooooh boy. I have no idea what kind of rabbit hole I’m entering here, and this may end up being the 1) longest, 2) least read, and 3) most unworthwhile (yes, it’s a word) post in the history of blogs. But fuck it, I’m doing it anyway.

If you’ve landed on this page, one of three things has happened:

  1. You’ve been a loyal reader, got an email notification about this post, and you clicked it. 
  2. You searched the internet for “docbastard vaccines” for some stupid reason, or 
  3. I or (hopefully) someone else referred you here from Twitter because you made some bullshit argument about vaccines. 

If it’s #3, there is at least a 99.21% chance (I calculated it) that you haven’t even read this far. But in case you have, please immediately refer to the number I listed so you can quickly find out why you’re wrong here wrong.

If that last sentence doesn’t make sense, just read on. Everyone else knows it will all come together by the end. 

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Australians deserve no-nonsense regulation of chiropractors

Andrew Arnold, the Melbourne based chiropractor whose manipulation of the spine of a two week old infant was described as “deeply disturbing” by the Victorian health minister is presently refraining from treating anyone under 12 years of age.

The ABC reported just over a week ago that health minister Jenny Mikakos also said in part;

It’s appalling that young children and infants are being exposed to potential harm. That’s why I’ve written to the Chiropractic Board of Australia and AHPRA (the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) to urge them to take the necessary action. There is nothing at the moment that prevents chiropractors from undertaking these risky practices… The advice that I’ve received is that the risk of undertaking spinal manipulation on small infants far outweighs any perceived benefit.

It’s worth noting that chiropractic treatment in general and the manipulation of infants specifically has a history of drawing harsh criticism from health and medical professionals and penalties from regulators. Fairfax reported in December 2011, Doctors take aim at chiropractors. One wonders at the lack of a cogent response to such serious statements from reputable professionals.

The inclusion of a chiropractic course at Central Queensland University prompted 34 scientists, professors and doctors to note federal government funding “gave their ‘pseudoscience’ credibility”. Fairfax reported that their statement included;

…it was also disturbing that some chiropractors spruiked the adjustment of children’s spines for many potentially serious conditions including fever, colic, allergies, asthma, hearing loss and learning disorders.

…the doctors said they were also concerned about chiropractors being the largest ”professional” group in the anti-vaccination network. [Now named The Australian Vaccination Risks Network]

At the time Australian Chiropractors Association president Lawrence Tassell responded by saying the criticism was ridiculous and misinformed. He further contended chiropractic was “evidence-based, including its use on children for the treatment of conditions such as colic.”

Note: The Australian Chiropractors Association was originally The Chiropractic Association of Australia (CAA). [Wikipedia]

Just colic? Was this an admission that fever, asthma, hearing loss, all allergies and all learning disorders did not benefit from chiropractic despite promotional claims that they did? Even so the question of evidence supporting chiropractic for the treatment of colic (crying) was not as Tassell suggested. Months later a Cochrane review consulted research into that very issue.

Conclusions note;

The studies included in this meta-analysis were generally small and methodologically prone to bias, which makes it impossible to arrive at a definitive conclusion about the effectiveness of manipulative therapies for infantile colic.

…most studies had a high risk of performance bias due to the fact that the assessors (parents) were not blind to who had received the intervention. When combining only those trials with a low risk of such performance bias, the results did not reach statistical significance.

This brings to mind criticism of anti-scientific training and ideological dogma favoured by what John Reggars calls fundamentalists. Reggars is past president of the Chiropractors Registration Board of Victoria and past vice president of the Chiropractic and Osteopathic College of Australasia.

In May 2011 Chiropractic and Manual Therapies published Reggars’ wonderfully honest and revealing article, Chiropractic at the crossroads or are we just going around in circles? Reggars is a firm proponent of evidence based therapy. As such he criticises the vertebral subluxation complex and B.J. Palmer’s notion of “dis-ease”. Consider this gem of a paragraph;

The irony of this fervent belief in the VSC and chiropractic philosophy is that its development was not founded on vitalistic theory but rather as a legal strategy, conjured up by an attorney, in the defence of a chiropractor charged with practicing medicine [7, 32, 33]: “Many in chiropractic never learned the origin of the pseudo-religion or chiropractic philosophy. It was nothing more than a legal tactic used in the Morriubo’s case.”[34], and “B.J. Palmer probably developed his disease theory as a result of the winning strategy used by his attorney Thomas Morris to defend Japanese chiropractor Shegatoro Morijubo in Wisconsin in 1907″[35].

– Author’s citations in place.

Reggars also concluded that the Chiropractic Association of Australia (CAA) abandoned science for fundamentalist ideologies. He observed that their “all-encompassing alternative system of healthcare is both misguided and irrational”.

Readers are handed the reality of what chiropractors genuinely offer;

Chiropractic trade publications and so-called educational seminar promotion material often abound with advertisements of how practitioners can effectively sell the VSC to an ignorant public. Phrases such as “double your income”, “attract new patients” and “keep your patients longer in care”, are common enticements for chiropractors to attend technique and practice management seminars.

Selling such concepts as lifetime chiropractic care, the use contracts of care, the misuse of diagnostic equipment such as thermography and surface electromyography and the x-raying of every new patient, all contribute to our poor reputation, public distrust and official complaints. […]

And;
For the true believer, the naive practitioner or undergraduate chiropractic student who accepts in good faith the propaganda and pseudoscience peddled by the VSC teachers, mentors and professional organisations, the result is the same, a sense of belonging and an unshakable and unwavering faith in their ideology.

Back in June 2016 Ian Rossborough published a similar video which also drew strong condemnation. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) responded by banning him from manipulating the spines of children under six.

It is difficult to watch Andrew Arnold “manipulate” an infant. Yes a baby is distressed and crying. But it’s the manipulation of the parents I also find appalling.

Grabbing the infant’s feet he announces “I’m locking in here”. Really? He lifts the baby offering verbal distractions. “I’m just gunna go upside down for a second… yep and as we go back down just hold his head… Perfect!” Then comes the stick-that-goes-click. Or as chiropractors call it, the Activator. A spring loaded device which delivers an “impulse”. He demonstrates the lowest setting and releases it into what seems to be the right side of the infants cervical spine. Another still image (below) shows Arnold apparently applying the activator to the infants upper cervical spine at the base of the skull.

The application of the activator as seen in the video hurts or distresses the infant immediately and he begins to cry. “…and he’s going to squawk a bit”, Arnold offers as if he planned and expected this all along. Then, he does it again! And guess what? More crying. “Sorry mate” he offers for the parent’s sake. He checks the collar bones “…cause they get a bit crunched up inside”. He checks potential for collar bone crunching by moving the infants hand. “So with this, start to get in the habit of getting a grip here”, and the video finishes with what appears to be reference to the Palmer grasp aka Darwinian reflex.

This reflex in which babies grip fingers develops around three months of age. I do hope Andrew Arnold informed the parents of this. Then again, I hope someone informed Andrew Arnold of this.

There’s little doubt we’re slow to not merely evaluate most chiropractic therapy and indeed most chiropractors as offering nothing more than pseudoscience. That so people many in developed nations believe their demonstrably preposterous claims about treatment is quite surprising. With the amount of pseudoscience and junk medicine accessible online it is little wonder parents will fall for chiropractic claims about treating infants.

Chiropractic clients should be informed that mild to moderate adverse effects are frequently associated with manipulation of the upper spine in adults. Dissection of the vertebral artery and stroke may also occur. [Source]. It’s difficult to imagine more than a very few parents would be comfortable having infants, babies and young children treated if aware of this situation.

A 2008 study found there was very little supporting evidence for the claims chiropractors made regarding pediatric treatment. A 2007 systematic review found that serious adverse effects may be associated with pediatric spinal manipulation. However observation data could not support conclusions on incidence or causation.

It remains firmly demonstrable that evidence to sustain even a fraction of claims made by chiropractors as to how effective pediatric treatment is remains absent. The fact chiropractors themselves have not pursued large scale randomised controlled trials with a vigor akin to that with which they claim an ability to heal is concerning.

I have no doubt there are chiropractors who do strive to follow an evidence based approach to treatment. Yet with some influential chiropractors labelling this approach as out of date in favour of the approach of D.D. Palmer’s 19th century vitalism, they face a struggle to be heard.

As John Reggars noted since the adoption of the fundamentalist approach and application of the vertebral subluxation complex (VSC), chiropractic in Australia has taken a backward step. Chiropractors have abandoned a “scientific and evidence based approach to practice for one founded on ideological dogma”.

Australians are entitled to be protected from expensive, dangerous pseudoscience in the health industry. At present we are faced with regulators who need to develop some rather sharp teeth and make a meal of chiropractic pseudoscience.

 

♣ (4/3/19) NB: Colic may refer to severe abdominal pain caused by an intestinal blockage or gas. Infants are prone to the condition, responding with constant crying. In fact crying is the means by which “colicky” babies are diagnosed. Paediatricians may use the “rule of threes” in diagnosis, particularly items 2-4.

  1. Crying begins at around 3 weeks of age.
  2. Crying for more than 3 hours.
  3. Crying on more than 3 days per week.
  4. Crying this way for more than 3 weeks.

Because crying is what determines infantile colic there is ample disagreement as to the role of intestinal pain or even if colic itself is a myth. Other criticisms involve the convenient use of colic as a diagnosis for excessive crying.

Reading;

Facts about meningococcal disease

The Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre has an excellent page on meningococcal disease and vaccines which includes comprehensive resources and the video below from the Australian Academy of Science.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection which can kill in hours. It is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Risk groups include children under 5, teens and young adults aged between 15 – 24, smokers, those with a suppressed immune system and anyone living in crowded accommodation. Of the 13 known sub-types of meningococcal bacteria, five are vaccine preventable.

These are B and A, C, W, Y.

Over 2018 the main serotypes causing disease in Australia were B, W and Y. Variations in serotype infection were specific to Australian states. On the information page the Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre (MVEC) notes;

People with meningococcal disease can become extremely unwell very quickly. Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) can cause meningitis (inflammation of the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord), septicaemia (infection in the blood) as well as other infections like pneumonia (lung infection), arthritis (inflammation of the joints) and conjunctivitis (eye infection). Mortality (death) can be as high as 5-10% and permanent lifelong complications can occur in 10-20% of those who survive. Disease is transmitted via respiratory droplets (sneezing and coughing etc).

Prevention is via vaccination. Three quadrivalent vaccines are available for the A, C, W and Y meningococcal serogroups. One, Nimenrix® is freely available from 12 months of age as part of the National Immunisation Program.

In September last year it was announced that the federal government will fund the addition of meningococcal A, C, W and Y vaccine for 14 to 19 year olds. From April 2019 teens aged 14 to 16 years will have free access via school based programs as part of the National Immunisation Program. Teenagers aged 15 to 19 years who do not receive the vaccine at school can be vaccinated for free via “an ongoing GP based catch up program”.

The details of access to the vaccines are clearly explained on the MVEC information page. Private scripts are available and required to purchase the meningococcal A, C, W, Y vaccine for those who don’t meet NIP criteria.

Meningococcal B vaccines are available although not yet part of the National Immunisation Program. Bexsero® is suited for use from 6 weeks of age. Trumenba® is suited for use from 10 years onward.

There is additional information in this post from September last year. Access the Department of Health immunisation information here.

Facts About Meningococcal DiseaseAustralian Academy of Science