By Alison Campbell 26/11/2019 8


Today the death toll from measles in Samoa rose to 32. All but four of the dead were less than 5 years old. Absolutely terrible, heartbreaking, news.

That statistic alone should be enough to give the lie to the common claim by antivaccination activists plague enthusiasts that “measles is a benign childhood disease”. Clearly, it is not. (And never has been.)

However, that hasn’t stopped them making a range of incorrect claims about vaccines (I’ve given a few further down), or from indulging in asking questions in a way that’s calculated to sow fear and uncertainty (often described as Just Asking Questions, aka JAQing off, because typically they aren’t really interested in the answers).

I want to address one of those “questions” here, because it demonstrates a lack of understanding of how studies are designed (& also a fairly poor grasp of research ethics), and because it’s commonly used to imply that vaccines have not been tested properly and should therefore not be used:

All new vaccines are tested against a saline placebo during clinical trials. This is to find out whether they perform better than, well, salt water in terms of generating a useful immune response. Despite repeated claims to the contrary, these trials exist (here’s one, as an example); they are regularly performed and well-documented.

However, when a new version of a vaccine is being trialled – one that differs only in the antigens it includes (antigens are what generate that immune response) – then best practice requires that it’s not tested against placebo.

This is for two reasons.  Firstly, because the question is now not “does it perform better than placebo?”, but “does it perform better than the earlier form of this vaccine?” (There’d be no point in using it, if it was better than placebo but worse than the original.)

And secondly, because it would be highly unethical to expose children & adults to the known risks of a disease by using a saline placebo when we already had a vaccine known to be protective – no ethics committee would ever approve it.

And it would also be almost impossible to recruit participants: no parent supporting vaccination would be willing to take the chance that their child would be in the saline arm of the trial (in a double-blind trial neither participants nor researchers know who’s getting which treatment), and similarly I doubt a parent opposed to vaccination would want their child in the vaccine arm.


As I said at the start, that sad, dreadful death rate has not stopped plague enthusiasts suggesting – on pretty much every news outlet’s posts about this epidemic – that the children were malnourished (effectively blaming the parents):

or that the vaccine spreads the disease:

– which is an outright lie: there is no evidence that this has ever happened for the measles vaccine. And yes, scientists have looked for it. In fact, simple logic shows that claim is wrong – because if it were correct then countries with high vaccination rates would also have constant high levels of measles infections. The situation in Samoa, sadly, shows us that the reverse is true.

or that the Samoan government’s decision to make vaccination mandatory is somehow equivalent to the evil done in Europe under the Nazis (see recent posts by this reprehensible ill-educated young woman).

They appear to have no sense of shame – perhaps they should start to develop one.

 

The post measles deaths and antivax misinformation appeared first on BioBlog. Featured image credit: Flickr / Teseum


8 Responses to “Measles deaths and antivax misinformation”

  • You’re right Alison – it’s heartbreaking. But can we run quickly through why the names attached to those posts you’ve used need to be blacked out? Anyone who knows the law on this – I’d love to hear your advice and input. If these antivaxxers could be held responsible for what they say everywhere and all the time – then perhaps they might develop some integrity.

  • Hi Miles – I did publish a few with the names showing. But I could just see that being used by the numpties to get FB to block or take down any posts by sciblogs.co.nz that included those images; seemed easier all round to go back to blacking them out.

    The screenshots are hotlinked to the actual comments.

  • That statistic alone should be enough to give the lie to the common claim by plague enthusiasts that “measles is a benign childhood disease”. Clearly, it is not. (And never has been.)

    Alison,

    Some figures would be useful. How many children – eligible to be vaccinated for measles – have died from measles in the last 10 years? How many children have died in car accidents in the same period? What is the probability of a child dying from measles in New Zealand? Do you believe in informed consent, and what does it mean to you?

  • Ross,

    The figures are out there, even the antivaccinationist have them and misinterpret them for their own use (particularly those from the USA and CDC).

    Rather than asking Alison to provide them, I would suggest that you take a few minutes on Google to look at the official government statistics.

  • What Stuartg says.

    On a global basis, Ross, about 100,000 people, most of them children, die annually from measles & its complications. Prior to the advent of the vaccine it was around 2 million/year. That is from the WHO: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/measles

    We were very lucky indeed that no children or adults have died in the current measles outbreak in NZ; even with the level of care we have in this country, if someone is in ICU with measles encephalitis there is nothing you can do but care for them & wait.

    The probability of death, once a measles infection is established, is clearly stated in multiple places as 1 in 1000 (so I don’t know why you need to ask me for that). That’s in a developed country like NZ. That’s the mortality rate in Europe for the outbreak that began last year. In developing countries it’s more like 1 in 100, which is what we’re seeing in Samoa.

    That risk is considerably less than the risks associated with the vaccine.

    Informed consent is having benefits and risks honestly explained (& I use the word ‘honestly’ because I am over the lies on this subject that are still being spread by plague enthusiasts on social media) prior to making a decision. In the context of vaccinations I’d argue that should include information on the significance of herd immunity.

  • Back at you Ross – what is your position on vaccination? What is your understanding of the science of disease control and what is the basis for this understanding? How many suitably qualified people hold your position? What percentage of the population of suitably qualified people does that represent?

  • Rather than asking Alison to provide them, I would suggest that you take a few minutes on Google to look at the official government statistics.

    Stuart,

    I’m not sure why you need to respond on behalf of Alison. I’ve looked online and can find the number of child deaths from car accidents, but cannot locate the number of deaths from measles. And nowhere can I find any information about the probability of a child dying from measles. I would’ve thought that if both were low, the Health Ministry would be promoting this widely.

    The probability of death, once a measles infection is established, is clearly stated in multiple places as 1 in 1000 (so I don’t know why you need to ask me for that)

    I don’t think that’s correct. And I wasn’t asking about when an infection is established.