"I am all in favor of the skeptical mind. Do not believe anything unless you have experienced it. Do not believe anything - go on questioning, however long it takes." - Osho

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Measles: the comeback tour we aren't so keen on.

Apparently measles are making a big comeback this year. There have been 334 cases of measles in the UK in the first three months of 2011 (Jan-Mar). This is very bad news, which you can think of in context once you realise that there were only 374 cases in all of 2010. Of course, one case of vaccine-preventable disease is too much in what is supposed to be a developed country such as Britain- so a ridiculous amount like that is downright frightening. It has been said, unsurprisingly, that the majority of people who contracted measles had not had their MMR vaccine.

Firstly, let it be known that measles isn't a joke. You don't necessarily recover in a few days. People seem to have forgotten that measles can still be fatal, even in 2011. That's why we vaccinate against it. The symptoms are horrible, and the consequences can be worse. It isn't like catching a cold, or a tummy bug.
It can definitely be said that Andrew Wakefield is partly responsible for parents not wanting to vaccinate their children, after his horrible 1998 study which apparently showed that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Although he was later shown to be a fraud - conducting the study with conflicts of interest- and his study to be inaccurate, his data had cultivated doubt about vaccines in the minds of the public.

I'm mentioning him for two reasons: one- that anybody with doubts about vaccines should know who he is, and that he's a quack, and two- that although correlation by no means equals causation, most of the cases of measles in England and Wales this year have been in kids ages 10-14. These are the children who should have been vaccinated around when Wakefield's original Lancet paper was published, but before it was shown to be bunk. Of course this is just me speculating, but it seems possible that his study could be part of the cause. Or maybe just a coincidence that makes him look even worse.

Also- I checked the stats on the OECD website, and apparently the United Kingdom only has an 86% vaccination rate- that's horrific. We are 25th of the 29 countries with data on the site. Ouch.

It's not just the UK either! Jenny McCarthy & Co seem to have been working their evil, evil magic in the USA- they've seen 118 cases so far this year. Normally they only see 50 cases of measles in a full year- this is the highest number for Jan-Mar since 1996.

I know that teens aren't the most likely people in the world to be having dilemmas about whether to vaccinate their kids, but hey, there's no reason not to know about the anti-vax movement. You can be of use to your own parents and relatives, friends- or anyone who's confused or unsure about the safety of vaccines. Or you can store the info in your amazing, ultra-cool noggins and bring it out in the event you do have children. The overwhelming message? VACCINATE YOUR BABIES PLZ.

As a last note, I think I'm going to start including page breaks in these after today, because it'll tidy up the blog quite a bit. So (unless it's a microblog) if my entry seems rather short, click the title/link and you can read the rest.

Oh also, David is amazing. Best not to ask.


  1. I believe Penn and Teller pretty much nailed it with their piece on the anti-vax movement


  2. It's the lack of these diseases that's caused this attitude. A lot of anti-vaccine groups campaign in India (I am out here studying away from the cold grasp of Roslin) and frankly get away with insane amounts of stuff by outright lying to the poor.

    You can show them umpteen columns of proof (I am currently reading stuff sent to me by a patient from Viera Schiebner whose stuff is frankly revolting!) and they won't ever believe in it.

    It's a kind of religion, you cannot shake them from it. Most of the drum bangers are people who won't fall ill and even if they do they can afford the bills while the majority of the people who suffer are poor.

  3. not a comment on this post, which obviously I agree with, but on your quote from "Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh" - just to say that he's usually called "Osho" nowadays (though he was called Bhagwan when I first met him in 1980) :D

  4. Andrew's findings were bunk because he set out to prove a link between Regressive autism and jiggerypokeried data into proving what he wanted.

    From the original rebuttal that I wrote up the main reason he got bollocked was that he did pointless and dangerous techniques such as spinal taps and colonoscopies to these kids.

    Not to mention out of the 12 children studied only 1 had regression autism and 3 were not even autistic.

    The study was INSANELY flawed. (http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/2011/03/facts-not-fantasy.html) if you want to read the whole gory article with the BMJ link.

  5. You've met him? Awesome! What's he like as a person? Also, I'll change that accordingly if it's what he goes by now.

    And Nick- you're right. Penn and Teller do most things better though!

  6. Avicenna- I completely agree with your first point. People just aren't scared enough of these diseases any more, because they don't see often enough what they're capable of. Some people absolutely cannot let go of their beliefs, which can be very destructive, but thankfully a lot of people do come round when presented with compelling evidence.

    On your second point, right again. There were many reasons why Wakefield's study was terrible- however, the conflicts of interest were the first alarm bells which showed it. I didn't want to mention them all, as this blog post was more about the recent findings than about Wakefield's study (although it was a component). Plus, even outlining all the flaws would take its' own post...

  7. Congrats on your Pharyngula mention. Also I perfectly agree with your sentiments here - and I like your skeptical approach - you don't just write: these kooks have blood on their hands! (which they do), but you provide a reasoned opinion based on the facts at hand. The anti-vax movement is part of a broader anti-science-based-medicine feeling in the west (not a conspiracy). What I find sad is that it is often (in my country - CZ) the more intelligent and health-conscious people who refrain from vaccinating their children with certain vaccines (non-mandatory ones), and you just can't get a straightforward idea like herd-immunity into their heads. The more simple-minded people are more likely to follow the doctor's orders.

    As a young father I've had my daughter fully vaccinated per the doctor's orders and I'm even thinking about starting getting the regular flu-shot myself and the HPV when my daughter gets older.


  8. Thanks, I felt very priveleged to get a mention on Pharyngula, as PZ is a sceptical hero of mine (and so many others).

    Funny what you say about education- another trend I noticed for the British stats is that in what are sometimes considered "poorer" areas of the UK, such as the North East of England, had no cases of measles at all. I suppose there could be some truth in our speculation.

    You're absolutely right to vaccinate your daughter. Vaccinations are what all the cool kids are doing (: I'm glad you're not opposed to the HPV either, there has been a fair amount of controversy over that, and how it apparently "promotes promiscuity". That's complete rubbish of course. I've had it- but the attraction for me was that I would be well-near eliminating my chances of developing a violent form of cancer, whatever the circumstances. I see no downsides!

    Thanks again for taking the time to read the post.

  9. As we all know beccy the with the threat of lady bits cancer gone women are free to copulate with men as they wish! How dare they indulge in my gender's lust for the horizontal tango? If women start liking all the things I like then how will we make them unhappy! HOW!!!!

    On a more serious note, I face a lot of that out here. Getting women to take the HPV vaccine is very hard because their response is "how dare you suggest we are promiscuous".

  10. I can see why; in Eastern cultures it seems as though even more stigma is attached to open sexuality than perhaps anywhere else in the world.

  11. @Beccy - "Some people absolutely cannot let go of their beliefs, which can be very destructive, but thankfully a lot of people do come round when presented with compelling evidence."

    Have you read Stuart Sutherland's fantastic book "Irrationality"? It devotes several chapters to examining the reasons why people cling so hard to obviously wrong beliefs. Fascinating reading, but rather depressing when you realise that a lot of this stuff is baked in to human psychology and we have to work rather hard to overcome our cognitive blind spots.