By Alison Campbell 28/11/2019 13


As the rate of measles infection, and of deaths, continues to climb in Samoa, antivaccination activists infectious disease proponents seem intent on doubling down on their claims about vaccination. (Check pretty much any news-media FB post about measles & you’ll see exactly what I mean.)

Unfortunately, some of them have a greater reach than others. On a global level we have people like Andrew Wakefield, RFK Jnr (who visited Samoa earlier this year to promote his anti-vax message), & Del Bigtree . Here in the Pacific region we have people like Taylor Winterstein, who actively pushes an anti-vaccine message via social media and – for some odd reason – believes that having no relevant qualifications at all makes her well-suited to providing health-related advice.

Now, lots of folk don’t have a uni degree and by itself, that isn’t necessarily a problem; there are other ways to gain a lot of expertise. I defer to my mechanic, who has a trade qualification, when my car needs servicing, and to qualified electricians when I want some wiring done; they both know far, far more than I do about these things!

But despite Tay’s brave words, having no degree – no relevant qualification whatsoever – is not a virtue when claiming to offer health advice and “expos[ing] the corruption” behind vaccines (which are probably the most thoroughly-researched pharmaceutical product in history). It means only that she has no idea how to even begin doing the sort of research that she would need, let alone looking critically at claims made by other plague enthusiasts before sharing them with her followers.

So she’s happy to say that vaccination is “proving to be ineffective, dangerous, and making the virus more deadly” without offering a skerrick of evidence. Which would, I suppose, be difficult given that none of those claims are correct. As for claiming that the Samoan government is lying when it says that almost all the confirmed cases of measles are in the unvaccinated – Tay, logic is clearly not your strong suit. Here’s why, and why your message is so dangerous:

Up until very recently the first measles vaccination (MMR) was given in Samoa to children 15 months of age, so that they relied on herd immunity to protect them against the disease. (This was very recently brought forward to 6 months.) The overall vaccination rate for the country at the start of this epidemic was an appallingly low 40% for the first dose of MMR and 28% for the second. This means that many kids older than 15 months weren’t likely to be vaccinated either. And as of November 27, here are the number of infections and deaths in the various age groups:

View image on Twitter

Clearly measles is not a ‘mild childhood disease’, Tay. It isn’t now, & never has been.

Oh, and that claim you shared (& thus implicitly support) that the vaccines Samoan kids are now receiving come from India and are cheap & worse than useless? The bit about their origin is true. The rest, not so much. Did you even bother to check, or is your confirmation bias so strong that you think you don’t need to?

You’re also apparently ignorant of history. Samoa has suffered through other measles epidemics in the past. In 1893-94 around 1,000 people (of a total population of just 34,500) died of measles, which tore through the country after arriving on a ship from New Zealand (also discussed here). More than half of them were children. It’s notable that even back then, doctors recognised that having had a measles infection made people more susceptible to other infections (something that’s now identified as immune amnesia).

The message you are pushing is a foolish, dangerous one. (And one that will not win you any friends on arrival in Francewhere childhood vaccinations are compulsory in order for children to attend school.) It’s great to see major news outlets now picking up on it, and pushing back hard (also here). Hopefully the Samoan government will act as well.

The post advice about measles: when ignorance is definitely not a virtue appeared first on BioBlog.


13 Responses to “Advice about measles: when ignorance is definitely not a virtue”

  • Alison,

    The rate of flu vaccination among medical staff isn’t great.

    “All District Health Boards in New Zealand offer free influenza vaccination to staff. In 2012, approximately 48% of all employees received an influenza vaccination. This rate was a slight improvement from 2011 (46%) and 2010 (45%). Rates were highest among doctors (57%) and lowest among midwives (37%). Nurses (46%), allied staff (50%) and other employees (46%) had similar rates of influenza vaccination. Immunisation rates differed among DHBs, with the highest rates achieved in 2012 in Capital & Coast and Canterbury DHBs and the lowest rates in Taranaki and West Coast DHBs.”

    “Of those who did not receive an influenza vaccine, reasons included; no underlying medical conditions/healthy, fear of needles, perception that their risk of contracting influenza was low, belief that the vaccine is ineffective…Of those who would not be happy to receive vaccinations, reasons given included; preferring natural products, perception of low disease risk, wish to become more ‘holistic’ and concerns about adverse effects and the ongoing need for boosters…

    https://bpac.org.nz/BPJ/2012/December/upfront.aspx

    Do you have any objection to medical staff choosing not to be vaccinated?

  • Ross,

    I’m a DHB employed doctor, fully vaccinated, and encourage all of my colleagues to get the influenza vaccine each year.

    A couple of points:
    1. The DHBs appear to only record those employees that they administer the vaccine to, missing those employees who get vaccinated by their own GP. GPs often are administering the vaccine several weeks before the DHBs and some people prefer to get the vaccine as soon as possible.
    2. Your reference is seven years old and probably does not reflect the current state of the DHBs. (Personal survey of my colleagues this winter – all doctors vaccinated, 20-30% by their own GP).

    My personal response if you asked me the question: *****, yes. Of course I object to medical staff choosing not to be vaccinated.

  • Yes, Ross, I emphatically do object to medical staff choosing not to be vaccinated. They are working in close contact with people who are already unwell, & should not be willingly setting themselves up to be potential flu vectors. The flu vaccine isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

  • Alison

    You may object to medical staff being vaccinated but they have their reasons, which presumably you respect. Of course, it does suggest that if medical staff have good reasons not to vaccinate, non-medical staff may also have good reasons not to vaccinate.

  • Ross, Dr. Campbell very obviously doesn’t object to medical staff being vaccinated. It seems pretty clear to me that she encourages it, in fact.
    Without out a legitimate medical reason, medical staff have no good or respectable reason for not being up to date on vaccines. If you don’t support science, you don’t belong in the medical field.

    • Lovely to see you hear, AltPan. Now that I’ve approved your first post, you won’t be held up by moderation in future.

  • Ross, pretty much the only reason not to vaccinate is a medical contraindication. I would find it hard to respect a medical professional I was dealing with if it turned out that they had chosen not to vaccinate for flu or other VPDs for any other reason, given the significant negative impact this could have on their patients. Especially if they had also chosen not to wear a mask.

  • “You may object to medical staff being vaccinated but they have their reasons, which presumably you respect. Of course, it does suggest that if medical staff have good reasons not to vaccinate, non-medical staff may also have good reasons not to vaccinate.”

    Lets pull that apart.

    “You may object to medical staff being vaccinated but they have their reasons…”

    Having a reason is not the same as having a valid reason supported by the science, or even by common sense. I, for example hate needles with a passion and avoid vaccination, injected pain relief, and accupuncture except where it is obviously required. This precludes all accupuncture, but means I grit my teeth and look the other way when giving blood, being vaccinated, or on those odd occasions when I need pain relief at the point of a needle. None of my prevarication makes logical sense (except the accupuncture bit), and it fails the common sense bit too since my delaying tactics often make the pain worse or increase my risk of illness.

    “…which presumably you respect.”

    Thats a wild assumption by you. Why would any medical professional respect the irrational reasons of a fellow professional when those irrational reasons put patients at risk?

    “Of course, it does suggest that if medical staff have good reasons not to vaccinate…”

    Classic question-beg there.

    “…non-medical staff may also have good reasons not to vaccinate.”

    Non-medical staff housed in a separate building with no patient contact perhaps could go with thier personal beliefs however irrational they might be. Anyone circulating in a hospital, doctor’s surgery or other health provider where at-risk patients might be exposed to them, refer to my earlier comments. Allowing these people to conscientiously object to rational public health precautions would be akin to allowing food handling staff to be exempt from washing thier hands if they had a “reason” of any sort including denial of germ theory.

  • <em.Ross, pretty much the only reason not to vaccinate is a medical contraindication. I would find it hard to respect a medical professional I was dealing with if it turned out that they had chosen not to vaccinate for flu or other VPDs for any other reason, given the significant negative impact this could have on their patients. Especially if they had also chosen not to wear a mask.

    Alison,

    Medical staff, like the general population, can get the flu despite being vaccinated. And as the quote I provided at the beginning shows, there clearly are multiple reasons why medical staff aren’t getting vaccinated. You can demonise them if you wish, but that shows a certain zealotry which is unbecoming of a health professional.

    I don’t know about you but if I get the flu I refrain from going to work.

  • Ross, pretty much the only reason not to vaccinate is a medical contraindication. I would find it hard to respect a medical professional I was dealing with if it turned out that they had chosen not to vaccinate for flu or other VPDs for any other reason, given the significant negative impact this could have on their patients. Especially if they had also chosen not to wear a mask.

    Alison,

    Medical staff, like the general population, can get the flu despite being vaccinated. And as the quote I provided at the beginning shows, there clearly are multiple reasons why medical staff aren’t getting vaccinated. You can demonise them if you wish, but that shows a certain zealotry which is unbecoming of a health professional.

    I don’t know about you but if I get the flu I refrain from going to work.

  • Ross, as both Ashton & I have said, there are valid reasons not to vaccinate (medical contraindications), & then there are others. I respect the former.

    People with flu are infectious before they are symptomatic (as is the case for measles).

  • further to Alison’s pithy and on point reply and with my HR Manager hat on, calling in sick rather than taking active steps to avoid infection by vaccinating is shifting the cost of your personal decision to the employer – you are in effect socialising the cost of your decision ot not be vaccinated.

    It would be interesting to test (I’m not aware of case law around it yet) but if your employer provides free flu vaccinations and you refuse to take it up for other than medical reasons, there might well be a case to not pay sick leave if you later become infected with the vaccine-protected flu strain and take time off work.

  • Ross,

    Anecdotal (I know). Pithy (I know).

    Usually I get a cold several times a year – kids with colds do tend to cough in your face when they are brought into the ED at 3am with a runny nose, cough and sore throat for five days – but I haven’t had influenza since medical school.

    Maybe I don’t get influenza because I get the vaccine as soon as it is available? I usually go to my GP because they have the vaccine 3-4 weeks before my DHB gives it. Unfortunately, that means my DHB doesn’t record me as having had the vaccine.

    Most of my colleagues who see patients, usually including all of the doctors, get vaccinated before the ‘flu season starts. If we delay until the season ‘starts’ then we’d likely catch the virus from asymptomatic people carrying the virus before they became ill, and then pass it on to our patients before we became symptomatic ourselves.

    I have one colleague who has valid medical reasons not to be vaccinated. We tend to protect him/her from symptomatic patients, and hope that he/she does not get infected by asymptomatic patients/relatives.

    I let my thoughts be known about any colleagues who decline influenza (and any other) vaccinations without valid medical reasons.

    If I’ve got a cold, I’m not at work. Amazingly, this year is the only year I can recall not having a cold! (Roll on vaccines for the common cold…)

    There are valid medical reasons not to receive influenza and other vaccines. I respect them. They don’t include the FUD being advanced by antivaccinationist fearmongerers.

    By the way, if you have influenza, you are unable to go to work because you are too unwell. If you are able to go to work then you’ve got a cold, not influenza, but it’s still not appreciated by your colleagues when you spread it around.