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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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;

Anti-vaccination campaigners: Misleading and Unsafe

When it comes to public advocacy this year, one of the most effective announcements came in December.

The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission issued a public warning under s94A of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 with regard to the “misleading and unsafe practices by anti-vaccination campaigners”.

The HCCC had received numerous complaints about individuals and associations and is concerned about the risk they pose to public health and safety.

The anti-vaccination lobby pushes messages which;

have the potential to engender fear and alarm in the community, often targeting vulnerable members of the community through misinformation which may have a detrimental effect on the health care decisions of individuals.

 

PUBLIC WARNING UNDER S94A OF THE HEALTH CARE COMPLAINTS ACT 1993:  MISLEADING AND UNSAFE PRACTICES BY ANTI-VACCINATION CAMPAIGNERS

The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (“the Commission”) has received multiple complaints regarding misleading and unsafe practices by anti-vaccination (“anti-vax”) campaigners and the potential risks that such persons and associations pose to the public health and safety.

Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting people against harmful diseases before they come into contact with them. Immunisation protects individuals and the community by reducing the spread of preventable diseases.

Complaints have been received in relation to individuals (including registered and unregistered health practitioners as well as academics) and organisations engaged in the widespread promotion of dangerous anti-vax messages.

Why is this warning being issued?
Misleading and inaccurate information communicated by anti-vax campaigners has the potential to engender fear and alarm in the community and result in fewer people being vaccinated. This information commonly quotes scientific research and studies in support of anti-vax claims, but is often selective, including exaggerating the risks and minimising or discrediting the benefits of vaccines. The research presented does not align with the true evidence-base on which independent and government bodies worldwide make vaccination recommendations.

This is likely to have a detrimental effect on the health care decisions of individuals and may lead them to make decisions not to vaccinate which pose an avoidable risk to their own health and to the safety of the wider community.

It is unfortunate that anti-vax campaigners are also known to target particularly vulnerable members of the community, including impressionable young parents who are concerned about making the right health decisions for their infants.

The spread of misleading and false information by anti-vax campaigners presents an ongoing challenge for government agencies, particularly due to the rise in use of social media and the proliferation of information concerning vaccinations available via the internet.

Given the continuing efforts of anti-vax campaigners to mislead and misinform members of the public, the Commission considers it necessary to warn all health consumers of the danger of relying on information that is not from a reliable and trusted source. This can include websites that appear to be “professional” and groups that are well-organised in their approach. Some persons and associations will go as far as to distance themselves from “anti-vax” campaigners, while essentially promoting the same message.

What should consumers do to protect themselves?
The Commission strongly urges consumers to exercise caution in relying on information concerning the safety and efficacy of vaccinations which is promoted via social media and websites that are not government affiliated or endorsed. Further, consumers should be cautious of persons or groups spreading anti-vax messages via other means, including face-to-face information sessions and other public events.

In all cases the following factors should be considered by consumers when presented with any information or advice concerning the safety and efficacy of vaccines and immunisation programs in Australia.To ensure that you are receiving reliable information concerning the safety and efficacy of vaccinations and to assist you in making an informed decision concerning the benefits and risks of particular vaccines, it is recommended that you consult a registered medical practitioner (e.g. your family GP or paediatrician).

Health consumers should be particularly wary of persons claiming to be “experts” or to have conducted “research” into the safety and efficacy of vaccines or immunisation programs in circumstances where they do not hold relevant medical qualifications and are not a registered health practitioner.
Consumers should be wary of persons holding themselves out to hold qualifications that cannot be verified. If you wish to ensure that the person providing advice is a registered health practitioner you should check on the National Register of health practitioners – https://www.ahpra.gov.au/Registration/Registers-of-Practitioners.aspx

Health professionals play a role in health education and administration of vaccines, however it is not appropriate for health professionals to promote anti-vax messages via their personal social media pages or other online forums.  Consumers should avoid placing any reliance on “comments” made via social media that are not from a reliable and trusted source.

When researching online, it is recommended that you visit trusted government websites including the NSW Health and Commonwealth Department of Health websites and also the National Centre for Immunisation Surveillance and Research (NCIRS) website, which provide reliable information concerning immunisation and Immunisation Programs:

https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/immunisation/Pages/default.aspx

https://beta.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation

http://www.ncirs.edu.au/

 

The Health Care Complaints Commission (“the Commission”) has issued a public warning under s94A of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 regarding Misleading and Unsafe Practices by Anti-Vaccination Campaigners.

The Commission is concerned about a number of complaints it continues to receive regarding misleading and unsafe practices by anti-vaccination (“anti-vax”) campaigners and the potential risks that such persons and associations pose to the public health and safety.

Anti-vax messages have the potential to engender fear and alarm in the community, often targeting vulnerable members of the community through misinformation which may have a detrimental effect on the health care decisions of individuals. Anti-vax campaigners will often selectively quote scientific research and studies in support of anti-vax claims, including exaggerating the risks and minimising or discrediting the benefits of vaccines. The research presented does not align with the evidence-base on which independent and government bodies worldwide make recommendations.

Given the continuing efforts of anti-vax campaigners to mislead and misinform members of the public, the Commission considers it necessary to warn all health consumers of the danger of relying
on information that is not from a reliable and trusted source. This can include websites that appear to be “professional” and groups that are well-organised in their approach that often use popular mechanisms like social media to promote their messages.

What should consumers do to protect themselves?

The Commission strongly urges consumers to:

  • Exercise caution when relying on vaccination efficacy information which is promoted via social media and websites that are not government affiliated or endorsed;
  • Be cautious of persons or groups spreading anti-vax messages via other means, including face-to-face information sessions and other public events;
  • Be wary of persons claiming to be “experts” or to have conducted “research” into the safety and efficacy of vaccination programs;
  • Be wary of persons holding themselves out to hold qualifications that cannot be verified. If you wish to ensure that the person providing advice is a registered health practitioner you should check on the National Register of health practitioners – https://www.ahpra.gov.au/Registration/Registers-of-Practitioners.aspx;
  • Consult a registered medical practitioner concerning the benefits and risks of vaccines;
  • Visit trusted government websites when researching online, including the NSW Health and Commonwealth Department of Health websites and the National Centre for Immunisation Surveillance and Research (NCIRS) website.

 

Further Information

For further information, contact the Executive Officer of the Health Care Complaints Commission, on 9219 7444 or send an email to media@hccc.nsw.gov.au.

 

Vatican position on vaccines derived from the descendent cells of fetal material

Despite very clear facts on the issue of fetal material used in the production of some vaccines, there is ample misinformation in circulation.

The anti-vaccine lobby aim to benefit from any confusion that can be created by misrepresenting the fact that human diploid cells derived from fetal cells are used in the production of some vaccines. During production the vaccines themselves are purified so that no cells remain in the final product.

In January 2014 I published Vaccines contain no aborted fetal cells and the piece is still relevant today. It’s important to remember that the diploid cellular material used to grow viral material in vaccine production are descendent cells.

Descendent cells are the medium in which these vaccines are prepared. The cell lines under consideration were begun using cells taken from one or more fetuses aborted almost 40 years ago. Since that time the cell lines have grown independently. It is important to note that descendent cells are not the cells of the aborted child. They never, themselves, formed a part of the victim’s body.

Source – National Catholic Bioetics Center

I see. One must be sure to observe “that descendent cells are not the cells of the aborted child. They never, themselves, formed a part of the victim’s body.”

A very clear source of information specific to the morality of this issue is the Vatican Statement on Vaccines Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses.

The article includes;

The matter in question regards the lawfulness of production, distribution and use of certain vaccines whose production is connected with acts of procured abortion. It concerns vaccines containing live viruses which have been prepared from human cell lines of foetal origin, using tissues from aborted human foetuses as a source of such cells. The best known, and perhaps the most important due to its vast distribution and its use on an almost universal level, is the vaccine against Rubella (German measles).

[…]

To summarize, it must be confirmed that:

  • there is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems;
  • as regards the vaccines without an alternative, the need to contest so that others may be prepared must be reaffirmed, as should be the lawfulness of using the former in the meantime insomuch as is necessary in order to avoid a serious risk not only for one’s own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole – especially for pregnant women;
  • the lawfulness of the use of these vaccines should not be misinterpreted as a declaration of the lawfulness of their production, marketing and use, but is to be understood as being a passive material cooperation and, in its mildest and remotest sense, also active, morally justified as an extrema ratio due to the necessity to provide for the good of one’s children and of the people who come in contact with the children (pregnant women);
  • such cooperation occurs in a context of moral coercion of the conscience of parents, who are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible.

 

  • Further reading;

Do vaccines contain aborted fetal tissue?

The Catholic Church and vaccines – Vaxopedia

The Australian Immunisation Handbook