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.

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

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