measles: a ‘gotcha’ moment that is nothing of the sort

On Monday this week, Seven Sharp carried the story of a Whangārei school where so many of the students are immunised that the school has attained herd immunity against measles. This is an enviable achievement – tautoko, Hora Hora Primary School!

Most of the comments are strongly supportive at the moment, but – predictably, not all. Including one, who produced a wall of copypasted text from the US¹,and advised everyone to demand answers to all of them before agreeing to vaccination. Here’s a sample (there were 40 items in total):

It would take ages to answer all of them here (though I might compile a full set of responses at some point). So let’s look at 4, 5, 6 & 8, as collectively they’re something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now: the US ‘vaccine court’.

Firstly, those 4 make it clear that this is indeed a list from the US; we don’t have a ‘vaccine court’ in NZ. The full name of the ‘vaccine court’ is a rather long-winded one: The Office of Special Masters of the US Court of Federal Claims. Set up in 1986 by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, it’s funded by a levy on the pharmaceutical companies who develop and provide vaccines, and is the first stop for claimants (though they can then sue the companies if the vaccine court rejects their claim). This program of compensation is called the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, or VICP. (In New Zealand, claims are covered by the Accident Compensation Corporation.)

Notably, the vaccine court has a lower burden of proof than a civil court; there is no requirement to provide a strong scientific case.

The answer to question #8 (how much money has been paid out by the vaccine injury court) is often presented as something of a ‘gotcha!’ – if that much money’s been paid out (& yes, it’s a lot – around $US3 billion), that’s evidence of a very high level of risk from vaccination.

But this is simply not true, as anyone looking at the actual data can see. And here is a link to that data, from the period 2006 – 2016. It’s presented as claims of serious harm from a particular vaccine, against the number of doses of that vaccine that were administered in that time period.

In the period 2006-2016, more than 3,400,000,000 vaccine doses were administered in the US. Over the same time period, the Special Masters ruled that 3,597 claims should be compensated (they rejected another 1723 claims)². That works out at just over 1 significant adverse event per million doses of a particular vaccine. Almost 50% of those were from claims against the influenza vaccination. For MMR, and the combined MMR-varicella vaccinations, the figure is between 1 & 2 in a million. Contrast that to the actual odds of serious adverse events from a active measles infection.

A ‘gotcha’ moment? I think not.

But I’ll leave the last word to Blue (who is definitely on the side of the angels here):

¹ It’s always amused me that the people who like to call others “sheeple” are so happy to mindlessly copy & paste lists of that sort, without actually checking their veracity.

² Over the lifetime of the NVICP, up until the end of 2018 there were 17,003 claims to the vaccine court. A total of 5,872 were upheld & received compensation – 11,131 were rejected as not meeting even the standard of proof required by that court.

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