Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Welsh measles conspiracy

If, as I do, you have strong feelings about the irresponsibility of the anti-vaxxer movement, and the mountain of science that they ignore in order to bolster their beliefs that vaccination is dangerous, I recommend not reading this post.  Just reading the background material for it means that I'm probably going to have to double up on my high blood pressure medication today.

Because now the anti-vaxxers are claiming that the measles epidemic in Wales this year, in which 700 people were sickened and one killed by a disease that is 100% preventable, was faked.

Yes, you read that right.  Heidi Stevenson, writing for Gaia Health, has a stomach-turning "exposé" that begins as follows:

The Great Measles Epidemic of Wales—the one that’s being used to stampede sheeple into vaccine clinics for the MMR jab—never happened. Seriously! It was faked. The actual data from the Welsh government on cases of measles proves it.
Here's her "proof:"
The fact is that, though 446 measles notifications were made between 1 January and 31 March of this year, those were merely reports. The reality is that only 26 cases were actually confirmed!
You may have noted that this faux measles epidemic started in November, and the figures for last year weren’t included. However, that doesn’t help make the case for an epidemic, or even come close to the claim that 83 people had to be hospitalized for measles. You see, the total number of confirmed measles cases in Wales for all of 2012 was 14. So, adding 14 for all of 2012 to 26 for the first three months of this year, we get a total of 40 confirmed cases of measles—less than half the falsely reported 83 hospitalizations!
 The actual reason for the discrepancy was picked up on almost immediately, with one of the first comments on the story reading as follows:
Note that only the minority of measles test samples are sent to Welsh labs.

So in conclusion it shouldn't be surprising if the lab confirmed figures are low at present because the majority of samples are sent to English labs for confirmation and are not included in the All Wales reports.

You're drawing conclusions based on at best incomplete data.
Stevenson went on the attack in the comments section, responding to the above commenter with, "But the reality is that this is not an epidemic and even if every reported case had proven to be genuine measles, it would not amount to an epidemic - nor has it amounted to anything that anyone needs to fear."  She responded to another person who objected to her stance with, "You're a shill.  Goodbye."  To another, who had mentioned herd immunity and that it was "thought that a 95% vaccination rate was enough to protect the population from epidemics in most cases," Stevenson snarled back:
What garbage! It's isn't known, it's merely "thought that". The belief in how high the rate of vaccination must be to stop a disease keeps changing - it keeps going up. The fact is that no one knows if there is even such a thing as herd immunity. It's an idea, not a fact. And that 95% figure is something that was pulled out of the air. It's meaningless - nothing but a coverup for the fact that the vaccines are nowhere near as effective as they'd have you believe.

Regarding learning math: The fact is that you've just spewed out figures that prove nothing in relation to this particular issue, and most assuredly do not demonstrate that you have any knowledge of the topic - just that you are able to spew out published figures.

You aren't actually providing any information that elucidates the topic at hand - the fact that the actual number of cases of measles is a small fraction of the reported number, though the reported number has been used to declare an epidemic and push for vaccination.
 Oh, yeah, and to further trivialize the Welsh epidemic, she threw in the following "photograph:"

Hmm, herd immunity is "meaningless?"  That would certainly come as a surprise to Dr. Paul E. M. Fine, whose 1993 paper on epidemiological modeling (available here) is considered the go-to source on how a sufficient pool of immunes in a population can prevent epidemics from taking hold.  Research by Thomas L. Schlenker et al. (available here) on measles in particular concluded that "Modest improvements in low levels of immunization coverage among 2-year-olds confer substantial protection against measles outbreaks. Coverage of 80% or less may be sufficient to prevent sustained measles outbreaks in an urban community."

And on a more emotional level, perhaps Ms. Stevenson would like to discuss the matter with Cecily Johnson, an Australian woman whose unvaccinated daughter Laine Bradley contracted subacute sclerosing panencephalitis as a complication of a measles infection, and lingered for five years, unable to speak, unable to feed, clothe, or wash herself, before dying at age twelve.

The long and short of it is that the actual research shows what we've known for years.  Vaccination has an extremely low rate of complications, while the complications from what are now entirely preventable diseases -- measles, polio, diphtheria, typhoid -- are often debilitating and sometimes fatal.  No medical intervention is 100% safe, and if you scour the records you can find cases of bad side effects (mostly allergic reactions).  But if you weigh those against the millions of people who are now alive because of vaccines, the choice is obvious.

At least, it is to me.  It apparently isn't to Stevenson and others in the anti-vaxxer movement.  Maybe it's because any quantification of the lives saved by vaccines is always going to be a guess -- it's not like you can look at someone and say, "If you hadn't been vaccinated, you'd have died at age six of diphtheria."

But all you have to do is to look into historical records to gain that perspective.  One of my hobbies is genealogy, and being that my family is from the French part of southern Louisiana, I own several books of church and courthouse record abstracts from that region that I have used in researching my family history.  That was how I found out about the 1853 yellow fever epidemic that struck southeastern Louisiana, costing thousands of lives -- the records are there, the chronicles of individuals who were killed by that gruesome disease:
Boutary, Adela Marie, wife of Théophile Daunes, d. 10 Sept. 1853 at age 20 years during yellow fever epidemic (Thibodaux Church: vol. 1, death record #55)
Himel, Mélasie d. 17 Sept. 1853 at age 16 years during yellow fever epidemic (Thibodaux Church: vol. 1, death record #92)
Poché, Joseph d. 3 Oct. 1853 at age 19 years during yellow fever epidemic (Thibodaux Church: vol. 1, death record #151)
Any guesses as to why we don't even have yellow fever in the United States any more?  I'll leave you to figure that one out.

1 comment:

  1. Heidi Stevenson's qualifications are what, exactly. Because at the moment it looks like all she holds is a B.S. in Misinformation LOL