By Alison Campbell 30/11/2017 1


So, another All Black has come down with mumps and the comments threads are once more awash with those opposed to vaccines, posting the usual mix of pseudoscience and misinformation.


Honestly, I would post a link on the Stuff FB page to this excellent commentary by Dr Mark Crislip, but I just know that the antivax proponents would see only the extracts of woo and ignore Mark’s science.

On the other hand, the comments threads certainly provide some ‘teachable moments’… The silly thing is, so many of the claims made there are so very easy to check. Those making them must hope that most people won’t bother, especially if you sound all confident and knowing. For example, the old one about how the Amish don’t vaccinate (and, by extension) don’t have individuals with autism in their population.

Except that they do. Snopes has investigated the claim made by Pink (and by many others) and found it wanting. However, since (in my experience) woo-promoters are likely to laugh if you cite snopes, I searched more widely: an Amish-focused website also points out that many Amish do vaccinate their children (and also explains why the vaccination rates are lower than that of the general US population). And this article in the Atlantic ranges more widely and discusses, not only the fact that vaccination is a thing in this group, but also the underlying reasons why they are prone to some pretty nasty genetic diseases.

Then there’s Brown, whose wildly-capitalised statements also repay investigation. He seems to think that vaccine-preventable diseases disappeared with the advent of modern sewage systems and good public hygiene practices. Sadly this doesn’t explain why, in 1950s America, polio epidemics were a regular summer happening – until the vaccine was developed. Nor does it explain why hospitalisation due to rotavirus infections in New Zealand didn’t begin a steep decline until the vaccine was released in 2014.

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As for his claims about isolated tribes not having diseases because they don’t have vaccines – it’s more because they’re isolated. I did suggest that he consider what happened (all too often) when those isolated groups were ‘discovered’ by explorers who brought those diseases with them. Our own NZ history is a sad case in point – the article at that link notes that

Although the impact of introduced diseases was severe, Maori were dispersed over a wide area and so were less at risk than Pacific Islanders living on small islands. The first New Zealand-wide epidemic of measles in 1854 may have killed 7% of the Maori population. This is an alarming figure, but far below that for Fiji’s first outbreak, which killed an estimated 20% of their population.

Brown is in good (?) company – for another antivaxxer, who also clings to the idea that hygiene can explain everything, came up with this doozy about the ‘black’ (bubonic) plague.

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He seems blissfully unaware that there is currently an outbreak of bubonic plague in Madagascar – with a case-fatality rate of 8.6%. Or that plague is present in parts of the US (and elsewhere around the world). Or that for the moment is treated using antibiotics, which isn’t possible for the viral VPDs.

It wouldn’t be a FB antivaccine thread without the almost obligatory reference to not-a-doctor Andrew Wakefield.

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The irony here is that Black is the person who is believing what she wants to and really needs to understand that what she’s doing isn’t research. If she’d genuinely done a proper search, she’d have found that the judge’s full decision is available online, and it neither ‘vindicates’ the original fraudulent research paper, nor says that the Lancet should ‘reinstate’ it.

But the one that startled me was the statement by both Red and Black that polio is simply a manifestation of DDT poisoning. Their google-fu appears to have deserted them on this occasion, as on so many others. But I suppose it’s a change from them blaming vaccines for everything.

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One Response to “Mumps: learning from the comments threads”

  • Alison, nice teaching moment. I did not know that polio was really just DDT poisoning, thank you black and red for the insight, that all the worlds science and clinical experts have missed all these many years. I wonder what the polio virus was all about?
    Re the plague. Plague is alive and well all over the world. It never left us, just became controlled by cleaning up the environment and getting rid of the rats. In fact not only does Madagascar have a serious problem but rising rates in the United States thanks to climate change and environmental damage. China has plague, as do Vietnam. People are learning to predict outbreaks by modelling humidity, soil humidity and temperature, fleas and rodents. However as plague can circulate in rodent reservoirs one can get place from their cute little kitty cat if it has had a plague infected rodent. For those who have a sense of the dramatic, plague is also a category A bioterrorism agent. All this without a vaccine.