anti-vaxxers in a measles epidemic: so many ways to be untruthful

By Alison Campbell 02/12/2019


“Anti-vaxers are a pro-death movement,” those comments from Dr Helen Petousis-Harris speaking about six more Measles related deaths in Samoa over the past twenty-four hours.

“Anti-vaxers are a pro-death movement,” those comments from Dr Helen Petousis-Harris speaking about six more Measles related deaths in Samoa over the past twenty-four hours. The fight to vaccinate continues with the Nation’s health authorities unhappy with the level of coverage for kids between six months and four years. Less than 40% have been vaccinated.

Posted by Breakfast on Thursday, 28 November 2019

Having spent a bit of time in the comments threads for that story, I have to say that there are a fair number of plague enthusiasts commenting who appear to have little regard for truth, accuracy, public health or evidence-based decision-making. (EDIT: as of today, 9 December, the death toll has reached 68, with the great majority being children under the age of 4. This has not stopped plague enthusiasts flooding mainstream-media social posts with their claims; they’ve even gone so far as to flood the Samoan government FB page with 1-star reviews.)

In Samoa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in other measles hot-spots round the world we are seeing the results of low vaccination rates: people – mostly children – are dying. While lack of access to vaccines may contribute¹, in many countries vaccine hesitancy also has a significant part to play. The World Health Organisation identified vaccine hesitancy – “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines” – as one of the top 10 health threats in 2019. Since vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) can and do kill, then the activities of antivaxxers plague enthusiasts in generating vaccine hesitancy & thus low vaccine rates can and do lead to preventable illnesses and deaths.

While some antivaxxers indulge in Just Asking Questions (aka JAQing off) as a means of sowing uncertainty, others simply lie.

For example, MM:

To make claims like this, on a post based on the fact that people (mostly children) are dying of a VPD in Samoa, is disgraceful. No plague enthusiast that I’ve seen has ever been able to provide any good-quality evidence whatsoever to support this statement. I guess they think that a mistruth repeated often enough becomes the truth in people’s minds.

It’s notable that in this entire thread, MM does not produce any evidence at all in support of her untrue claims, which appear to be calculated to put people off vaccinating, and then has the cheek to assert that there is no evidence in support of vaccines & their safety. An assertion that is easily disproved.

The site that Green has linked to above is this one: it provides a loooong list of research papers examining the safety of vaccines. MM responds that“There is no vaccine safety” (that saying about leading a horse to water comes to mind) and then really doubles down:

There’s no proof vaccines have helped at all ever and are even needed.” That particular lie is easily rebutted: before the vaccine was available measles epidemics were a regular thing, causing serious illness, long-term disabilities, and in some cases deaths. After the vaccine became widely used in the late 1960s, those epidemics pretty much disappeared.

Measles has been scientificly [sic] proven to have benefit in the long run.” Except it hasn’t. It’s not a cure for cancer, it doesn’t protect against cancer, and by causing immune amnesia it sets you up for a range of other infections over at least the next 2-3 years. (For someone who tells others to “do their research”, MM seems to have very little knowledge of the relevant literature. I suspect she relies on Greenmedinfo for a lot of her material.)

Chicken pox is good to get young to [sic] it stops more dangerous stuff going on when you get older.” Well, not really. Shingles is both debilitating and dangerous, causing unremitting pain, and depending on what area of the body’s affected blindness, deafness, and stroke are all possible outcomes. You only get shingles if you’ve had chicken pox first. And chicken pox isn’t a walk in the park for many children either. Yes, it can be worse in adults, and before a vaccine became available it did (sort of) make sense to catch the disease young, but these days that kids should get sick & carry the risk of harm so that adults don’t seems more than a little wrong.

At the very least, the news outlets should be more active moderators of their FB feeds. They do not owe plague enthusiasts a platform to spread their dangerous misinformation².

 

¹ While in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo health services may be poor and malnutrition common, please don’t go down the route of saying that those should be addressed in place of using vaccination to protect against VPDs. Yes, they should be – but that takes time, and in the interim, in the absence of vaccination people, mostly children, will continue to die.

² It’s not just measles that MM is untruthful about:

I asked her to explain how she thought the vaccine could cause the flu. Apparently this is because the vaccine contains a lot of things that aren’t listed in the insert, and she just knows it causes flu. “I know you’re going to so [sic] there’s no proof but it’s proof to me I don’t need a scientific paper to get it.” Oh WordPress, where is comic sans font when I need it?

And, just to show the depths to which some infectious disease proponents will go (from The Vaccine Station):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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