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

David Attenborough presents “Migration of the Skeptic”

This is a rather short presentation on the somewhat rare migration of that strange creature, the skeptic.

This strange, pedantic being prone to seek out evidence is often accused of being at the heart of invented conspiracies. This accusation is particularly true of reality-adverse groups such as herbalists, antivaccinationists, chiropractors, homeopaths and many others who peddle fallacious claims devoid of evidence. It seems the innocent skeptic is motivated by an innate drive to challenge such obvious hanky panky.

This video focuses on a number of their distinguishing features and, when considered in full, highlights the ability of skeptics to take the piss out of themselves.

 

Judy Wilyman – unedited TV interview

Some thoughts on vaccine conspiracy theorist Judy Wilyman’s misleading “TV interview” which was published on YouTube on August 16th, 2018.

Viewers are being mislead by Ms. Wilyman’s constant and repetitive referral to “university research” and the allusion to an existing “scientific debate” on vaccination. The science on vaccination is settled and there is certainly no genuine debate. Only anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists constantly seeking to create the impression there is a debate and that the truth is being suppressed.

One wonders. What is the “objective and evidence based university research (approved by the University of Wollongong)” of which Ms. Wilyman speaks? What was the study design? What was the sample size? By what methodology were vaccine ingredients causally linked to chronic disease? Which ingredients were shown to cause chronic disease or pathological changes? By what mechanism do which ingredients cause pathology? How did the study control for other variables? What methods of analysis and statistical verification were used?

Where was this research, “approved by the University of Wollongong [UOW]”, published? Has it been reproduced? How many unsuccessful attempts to falsify the research have there been? Certainly Ms. Wilyman has not published any original research or data. Indeed apart from startlingly unverified claims gleaned frequently from dubious sources, Ms. Wilyman is yet to produce the basic outline of any study design. Rather Ms. Wilyman has joined the ranks of those who misrepresent the purpose of package inserts, and why certain information is included for legal purposes. Not as an indication of what vaccine recipients should expect.

Some Australians are aware that Ms. Wilyman was awarded a PhD from UOW Humanities Department on the basis of a literature review that sought to criticise the Australian Immunisation Schedule and the safety of vaccines in general. Ms. Wilyman has no qualification in health, medicine, public health, epidemiology, vaccine science or any qualifications relating to immunisation at all. During this interview Ms. Wilyman contends, whilst failing to cite any supporting research that vaccine ingredients are causing chronic disease in Australian children.

All Wilyman cites appears to be her own literature review, in which she mistakes correlation for causation. More so, the references cited by Ms. Wilyman in her thesis are firmly biased toward her anti-vaccine theory, and blatantly so. Because of this fact Wilyman has reinforced the fact there is no scientifically reputable debate on the safety and efficacy of mass vaccination at all. In cases where a debate on any topic could be mounted the author of a literature review would present bipartisan sources, review and critique the value of each then finally argue a conclusion based upon the material reviewed.

However the scientific consensus from peer reviewed material addressing vaccine safety and vaccination schedules is one that demonstrates absolutely the safety and success of vaccines. Ms. Wilyman is unable to demonstrate a scientific consensus in peer reviewed literature that suggests widespread chronic disease as a result of mass vaccination because such a consensus does not exist. Ms. Wilyman underscores the intellectual paucity of her stance by insisting that “it has not been proven that autism is not linked to the vaccines”. It has indeed been demonstrated over and over again that autism is not linked to MMR or any vaccine.

One finds it more than disturbing that someone awarded a PhD from an Australian university is incapable of understanding the vast body of work dismissing any link between autism and immunisation. More so, Wilyman goes on to falsely claim there have been deaths and widespread harm causally linked to vaccines. There have been no deaths linked to vaccination in Australia for close to 45 years. On November 21st, 2015 The Social Services Legislative Amendment Bill (No Jab, No Pay) in Brisbane was informed serious reactions to vaccines occur from zero to five times per year in Australia.

These figures reveal Ms. Wilyman’s claims of frequent death and disability from vaccination as bogus. Her abuse of the right to freedom of speech is significantly disturbing as she consciously presents demonstrably false information with the ability to cause community harm, harm to infants and children and the sabotage of public health. For over 17 minutes Judy Wilyman pushes the standard anti-vaccine conspiracy theory, and at one alarming point suggests the Australian Vaccination Schedule with the added incentive of No Jab, No Pay is a breach of The Nuremberg Code.

Let’s clear up what the purpose of the Nuremberg Code is. Following the Nuremberg trials and the conviction of Nazi doctors for human experiments on concentration camp prisoners, the Code was introduced in August 1947. It seeks to give clear instructions and rules as to what is legal when conducting human experiments. There are ten points to the Nuremberg Code.

Comments (below) in response to the video are predictably from the conspiracy theory handbook. The first observes that the government wants to hide what is in a vaccine. You may have noticed above that I linked to vaccine ingredients on this Australian Government Dept. of Health Fact Sheet. The second comment notes “government or doctors” don’t read package inserts. Deaths and serious sickness is covered up.

The harm caused by this misinformation – which is being constantly pushed (and certainly not corrected) by Judy Wilyman is not something one can take lightly.

YouTube comments;

  • “It’s very very suspicious when a government and the AMA want to hide the truth from the public about what is in a vaccine. The whole idea of vaccines is to sterilise the population and polysorbate 80 is in all of them. Obviously that idea has come from the minds of psychopaths”.
  • “All those who promote the lies of the safety of vaccines are equally responsible as BigPharma for the poisoning and maiming of their own people, (sic) They should recall the Nuremberg Trials and the consequences of those who experimented on the innocent people. The risks of vaccines are listed on the Data sheets of the vaccines and also the Package inserts, which are not studied by government or doctors, and the deaths and serious sicknesses are covered up.”

Ms Wilyman would be wise to stick to humanities it would seem.

 

Update: Note; Reference to “scientific debate” on vaccination above refers to the contention of the anti-vaccination lobby that the risk/benefit ratio of vaccines is something that is still being debated or a topic that warrants debate. The benefit of vaccines far outweighs the extremely small risk of harm.