advice about measles: when ignorance is definitely not a virtue

As the rate of measles infection, and of deaths, continues to climb in Samoa, antivaccination activists infectious disease proponents seem intent on doubling down on their claims about vaccination. (Check pretty much any news-media FB post about measles & you’ll see exactly what I mean.)

Unfortunately, some of them have a greater reach than others. On a global level we have people like Andrew Wakefield, RFK Jnr (who visited Samoa earlier this year to promote his anti-vax message), & Del Bigtree . Here in the Pacific region we have people like Taylor Winterstein, who actively pushes an anti-vaccine message via social media and – for some odd reason – believes that having no relevant qualifications at all makes her well-suited to providing health-related advice.

Now, lots of folk don’t have a uni degree and by itself, that isn’t necessarily a problem; there are other ways to gain a lot of expertise. I defer to my mechanic, who has a trade qualification, when my car needs servicing, and to qualified electricians when I want some wiring done; they both know far, far more than I do about these things!

But despite Tay’s brave words, having no degree – no relevant qualification whatsoever – is not a virtue when claiming to offer health advice and “expos[ing] the corruption” behind vaccines (which are probably the most thoroughly-researched pharmaceutical product in history). It means only that she has no idea how to even begin doing the sort of research that she would need, let alone looking critically at claims made by other plague enthusiasts before sharing them with her followers.

So she’s happy to say that vaccination is “proving to be ineffective, dangerous, and making the virus more deadly” without offering a skerrick of evidence. Which would, I suppose, be difficult given that none of those claims are correct. As for claiming that the Samoan government is lying when it says that almost all the confirmed cases of measles are in the unvaccinated – Tay, logic is clearly not your strong suit. Here’s why, and why your message is so dangerous:

Up until very recently the first measles vaccination (MMR) was given in Samoa to children 15 months of age, so that they relied on herd immunity to protect them against the disease. (This was very recently brought forward to 6 months.) The overall vaccination rate for the country at the start of this epidemic was an appallingly low 40% for the first dose of MMR and 28% for the second. This means that many kids older than 15 months weren’t likely to be vaccinated either. And as of November 27, here are the number of infections and deaths in the various age groups:

View image on Twitter

Clearly measles is not a ‘mild childhood disease’, Tay. It isn’t now, & never has been.

Oh, and that claim you shared (& thus implicitly support) that the vaccines Samoan kids are now receiving come from India and are cheap & worse than useless? The bit about their origin is true. The rest, not so much. Did you even bother to check, or is your confirmation bias so strong that you think you don’t need to?

You’re also apparently ignorant of history. Samoa has suffered through other measles epidemics in the past. In 1893-94 around 1,000 people (of a total population of just 34,500) died of measles, which tore through the country after arriving on a ship from New Zealand (also discussed here). More than half of them were children. It’s notable that even back then, doctors recognised that having had a measles infection made people more susceptible to other infections (something that’s now identified as immune amnesia).

The message you are pushing is a foolish, dangerous one. (And one that will not win you any friends on arrival in Francewhere childhood vaccinations are compulsory in order for children to attend school.) It’s great to see major news outlets now picking up on it, and pushing back hard (also here). Hopefully the Samoan government will act as well.

This post by Helen Petoussis-Harris, over on Sciblogs NZ, discusses why things are so bad in Samoa.

And here is an article giving a medical doctor’s perspective.



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