measles: NOT a “benign childhood disease”

Pretty much everyone in NZ should be aware by now that the country is facing its biggest measles outbreak in years, with Counties Manukau being particularly hard-hit. Here’s the data for the week ending August 23rd, from ESR’s Public Health Surveillance page:

This hasn’t stopped those opposed to vaccination plague enthusiasts pushing all their usual tropes, as you can see from pretty much every measles-focused post on social media (try this one for size). These include things like “well, I had measles & it wasn’t so bad”¹, along with “I don’t know anyone who’s died from measles” and “measles is a benign childhood disease”.

This makes me think that we need to see a lot more articles like this one: Kiwi mother shares ordeal after 7-month-old catches measles(There are quite a few from overseas; see here & here, for example.) The baby came down with measles after her 3-year-old twin siblings – who had received their first, 15-month, vaccination & so were not fully-protected – were exposed to someone with measles developed the illness themselves. (Her fully-vaccinated older sister and parents were fine.) Result: an emergency trip to hospital, admission, and several days on a ward.

All too predictably, we see claims that the infant caught measles from the 3-year-old twins, by this mythical thing called shedding². In fact, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the measles vaccine virus. None. Since the vaccine involves an attenuated form of the virus, this should come as no surprise. What’s more, measles is airborne. A vaccinated individual may pass vaccine strain RNA in their faeces or urine – they don’t expel it into the air. (As the Skeptical Kiwi says, if you’re not snorting these substances, you’ll be fine.)

But in addition to being wrong, the shedding claim is a deflection. This infant was hospitalised with measles, and she’s not alone. Starship & Kidz First hospitals, both in Auckland, have opened dedicated measles wards and are admitting several children a day, some spending time in intensive care ³. Clear evidence, contra the disease proponents’ claims, that measles is NOT a benign childhood disease. 



¹ This is an example of survivorship bias.

² Which is silly anyway, since the twins are three i.e. they would have received their 1st MMR dose nearly 2 years ago. Are we really to believe that their immune systems still hadn’t cleared the attenuated vaccine strain, after all this time?

³ Nor is this limited to NZ. European countries are struggling with significant measles outbreaks, and seeing measles-related deaths. And that’s even before we consider the global toll of illness and death from this vaccine-preventable disease: 100,000+ deaths in 2017, with the World Health Organisation recording “sustained rises in cases” from all regions of the globe.

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