Measles cases surge globally. Happy now, anti-vaxxers?

In 2000, there were 28.2 million cases of measles and 535,600 deaths. Thanks to massive efforts and vaccines, those numbers started coming down dramatically but more recently measles cases have risen again around the world. It is reported that in the last year alone, it went from 7.6 million cases of measles and 124,000 deaths in 2017 to 9.8 million cases of measles and 142,000 deaths in 2018, most of them children under the age of five.

It should be noted that it was in 1998 that discredited British physician Andrew Wakefield (who was later stripped of his medical credentials) published his now notorious and later withdrawn paper claiming a vaccine-autism link, that the British Medical Journal editorialized as an “elaborate fraud” and credited an investigative journalist Brian Deer with exposing it.

Drawing on interviews, documents, and data made public at the GMC hearings, Deer shows how Wakefield altered numerous facts about the patients’ medical histories in order to support his claim to have identified a new syndrome; how his institution, the Royal Free Hospital and Medical School in London, supported him as he sought to exploit the ensuing MMR scare for financial gain; and how key players failed to investigate thoroughly in the public interest when Deer first raised his concerns.

Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross.

Moreover, although the scale of the GMC’s 217 day hearing precluded additional charges focused directly on the fraud, the panel found him guilty of dishonesty concerning the study’s admissions criteria, its funding by the Legal Aid Board, and his statements about it afterwards.

Furthermore, Wakefield has been given ample opportunity either to replicate the paper’s findings, or to say he was mistaken. He has declined to do either. He refused to join 10 of his coauthors in retracting the paper’s interpretation in 2004, and has repeatedly denied doing anything wrong at all. Instead, although now disgraced and stripped of his clinical and academic credentials, he continues to push his views.

Meanwhile the damage to public health continues, fuelled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals, and the medical profession.

The damage caused by the perpetuation of these false finding continues to pile up.

Huge progress has been made since the year 2000, but there is concern that incidence of measles is now edging up.

In 2018, the UK – along with Albania, the Czech Republic and Greece, lost their measles elimination status.

And 2019 could be even worse.

The US is reporting its highest number of cases for 25 years, while there are large outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine.

The Pacific nation of Samoa has declared a state of emergency and unvaccinated families are hanging red flags outside their homes to help medical teams find them.

Why enough children are not being vaccinated is more complicated – and the reasons are not the same in every country.

The biggest problem is access to vaccines, particular in poor countries.

The other issue is people who do have access to vaccines choosing not to immunise their children.

While it is a tragedy that some countries do not have the access to sufficient vaccines or the ability to deliver them, it is a scandal when people refuse to vaccinate children because they believe the myths promoted based on just bad, and sometimes fraudulent, science that claims that vaccines cause other health issues.

As health experts keep pointing out, the tragedy is that we know how to stop measles and thus these deaths are preventable.

“The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world’s most vulnerable children,” said Dr Tedros Ghebreysus, director-general of the WHO.

Henrietta Fore, Unicef’s executive director, said: “The unacceptable number of children killed last year by a wholly preventable disease is proof that measles anywhere is a threat to children everywhere.”

[Prof Heidi Larson, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine] said: “These numbers are staggering. Measles, the most contagious of all vaccine-preventable diseases, is the tip of the iceberg of other vaccine-preventable disease threats and should be a wake-up call.”

I simply do not know what it will take to convince the anti-vaxxers in the US and other developed countries, who should know better, that what they are doing is so dangerous and contributing to the deaths of children all over the world, especially in poorer countries. They may think that it only involves them and their families but they are wrong. With a contagious disease, one cannot restrict it geographically.


  1. Bruce says

    People from families or homes with needlessly unvaccinated kids should not be allowed to use public roads or sidewalks. They can pay someone to deliver groceries and come tutor at their plague-ridden hovels.

  2. blf says

    Somoa has had enough of the genocide advocates, Samoa measles outbreak: 100 new cases as anti-vaccination activist charged:

    Samoa has said nearly 90% of eligible people have been vaccinated against measles as it lifted a two-day curfew imposed amid an outbreak that has killed 65 in recent weeks.


    The measles virus has infected almost 4,500 people in the South Pacific nation of 200,000 since late October. Of those who died, 57 were under the age of four.

    Samoa has, meanwhile, arrested an anti-vaccination campaigner amid the outbreak. Edwin Tamasese was charged with incitement against a government order after he was detained on Thursday.

    The outbreak is in part blamed on people spreading false information, claiming vaccinations are dangerous.

    Samoa has declared a state of emergency and made vaccinations compulsory.

    The mandatory immunisation campaign aims to vaccinate 90% of the population, tripling Samoa’s coverage in just a few weeks. The government said a rate of 89% had been achieved as of Friday.


    The World Health Organisation said this week that measles infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed 140,000, mostly children.

    The picture for 2019 is even worse, it said, with provisional data up to November showing a three-fold increase in case numbers compared with the same period in 2018.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    The situation in Samoa certainly wasn’t helped by the deaths of two kids last year;

    In July 2018, two infants died in Samoa after receiving vaccinations against measles, mumps and rubella, raising local fears over the vaccine itself.
    But the deaths were later established to have been due to the nurses mixing the vaccine with an expired muscle relaxant, instead of water.
    The two nurses pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to five years in prison.
    “We have to make clear that vaccines are perfectly safe,” Mr Yett said.
    “These deaths were due to human error. But the fact that you had two children die on the same day in the same institution, obviously caused a great deal of distrust towards the health system and towards vaccinations.
    “It provided the perfect opening for people who wanted to spread misinformation and lies.”

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Some anti-vaxxers have escalated their game, harassing kids, parents, & medical staff outside clinics.

    In past lives, these same people put whoopee cushions on the deck chairs of the Titanic.

  5. machintelligence says

    I almost hate to suggest it, but perhaps it is time to abandon persuasion in favor of compulsion.
    Maintaining herd immunity is a life and death situation.

  6. file thirteen says

    @machinintelligence #5

    The problem with measles is that it doesn’t kill enough of us at once, so the majority of anti-vaxxers, whose children either don’t catch measles or catch a mild case and survive with no complications, get to feel very smugly vindicated.

    But if and when the herd ever substantially loses its immunity, the shock of an outbreak provides the impetus to abandon persuasion in favour of compulsion as you said, and that has happened in Samoa.

    Religion has a strong hold on that country, but there is a little solace in that it was the number of innocent childrens’ deaths there that have brought about an enduring seachange of opinion, so as stupid and tragic as their deaths were, they weren’t entirely in vain.

    The painful irony is that without the nurses’ crime that killed two infants and drove people away from vaccination immediately prior to the measles epidemic, the herd immunity in Samoa may not have been driven below the point at which measles would kill enough to precipitate that seachange.

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