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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Four Lies About the Measles Outbreak

by Mike Rothschild

February 3, 2015

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Donate The Disneyland measles outbreak hasn't shown any signs of doing anything other than getting worse. As of right now, over 100 cases have been diagnosed in states across America. Most are situated in Southern California, and the vast majority are among people who aren't vaccinated. Sadly, this is mostly children who never gave their consent to not be protected from preventable disease.

Nobody who follows the anti-vaccine movement, and deals with their arrogance, chemphobia, fecklessness and endless self-delusion should be surprised by any of this. And nobody should be surprised by the lies that have emerged around this measles outbreak. Because that's inherently what the anti-vax movement is about — lies. Lies about coverups, lies about toxins, lies about the real causes of disease, lies about the danger, lies about who caused it, lies, lies and more lies.

Here are four of the worst lies, but by no means are these the only ones:

Measles isn't that bad, so it's okay that a bunch of kids have it — First, nobody has the right to be the Arbiter of Things That Are and Aren't That Bad. Terms like "bad" are relative and have no real meaning from one person to the next. But beyond that, the measles absolutely can be "that bad." While it's true that the majority of cases are mild and clear up with rest (which can be "that bad" for a family that has to burn sick days at work or spend money putting their child in the hospital), that doesn't mean they all are. And it certainly doesn't mean that the worst can't happen.

Measles is almost comically contagious, and is particularly horrific for babies less than a year old, patients on immuno-suppressant drugs and the elderly — all people who can't vaccinate for one reason or another. And despite the ludicrous pontificating of anti-vaccine doctors who should know better, it can and does kill. According to World Health Organization statistics, there were 145,700 deaths from the measles in 2013.

Most of these were children from developing countries where the vaccine that's eschewed by natural granola parents in America wasn't available. One imagines these parents shaking their heads at the hubris of privileged moms and dads who cast aside the vaccine they so desperately needed because of vague fears about "toxins."

Prior to the development of the MMR shot, the death toll from measles was catastrophic. Before 1980, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year around the world. The fact that this awful number has been cut to something much less (though still) awful, is a cause for celebration — not for harangues to "do your research" and "get the real facts." Statistically, measles has a mortality rate of about .3% in the developed world. So when the outbreak in the US hits 300 cases, we'll be due for a measles-related death. It'll probably be a child, and almost certainly someone whose parents chose not to vaccinate.

Does it have to come to a dead kid for the outbreak to be "that bad?"

Some people who were vaccinated got the measles anyway, so the vaccine doesn't work! Nyer, nyer! — The first part of this statement is true. According to Wired, of the 52 measles cases known to have originated at Disneyland, about six were in patients who had been at least partially vaccinated. Four had gotten the recommended double shot of MMR, one at 12-16 months, the second at 4-6 years.

So if vaccinated people still get the measles, that means the measles vaccine is worthless, right?

Of course not. Let's start with the assumption that almost nothing is 100% anything. No vaccine can be 100% effective or safe because 100% means it literally never fails. And virtually nothing never fails. Getting out of bed isn't 100% safe. The most benign and well-studied medicine isn't 100% effective. We can't think in absolute always and never statements. We have to go with what we know works the majority of the time.

It's clear that the MMR shot does — and the Disneyland outbreak proves it. Please note that all of this is utterly off the cuff math, but even with a lot of variables, it proves my point.

If you take the raw numbers of how many people visit Disneyland, it averages about 40,000 per day. Some days it's more, some days it's less. It's hard to find good numbers for the national rate of vaccination, but a CDC study from 2013 gives it around 92% for children ages 1-3 (note this is right on the line of the herd immunity threshold of 83-94%). Let's extrapolate that percentage to the people coming to Disneyland on a daily basis and say it's 36,800 vaccinated people and 3,200 unvaccinated people. The measles exposures have been narrowed down to a five day period, but let's just say all the infections happened on one day.

Using the numbers from Wired, there are 46 known unvaccinated people and 6 known vaccinated people who've contracted the measles. So 6 out of 36,800, which is .016%; and 46 out of 3,200, which is 1.4%.

I'm not a math whiz, but one of these numbers is way, way higher than the other. And it's not the number of vaccinated people who still got the measles. Sometimes the vaccine doesn't take for whatever reason, but the vast majority of the time it does - and 100% of the time more than not vaccinating.

Measles patients are coming into America via our open borders. Thanks, Obama! — Without getting into a pointless and decidedly non-scientific argument about immigration policy, this just isn't factually correct. It wasn't true for the EVD-68 outbreak from last fall, and it's not true about measles.

Mexico's vaccination rate against measles has dropped in the last year, but it's still at 89% as of 2013. Honduras is the same, 89%. For the Dominican Republic, it's 79%, which is low. El Salvador is 94%. None of these are numbers that suggest massive numbers of unvaccinated children are pouring over our Swiss cheese borders and infecting good old American kids. In fact, there aren't any measles outbreaks going on in any of these countries, and the only known measles case in Mexico is someone almost certainly infected as part of the Disneyland outbreak. The United States' vaccination rate against measles, incidentally, is 91%. This is a decrease from the last three years (thanks, anti-vaxxers!), but in line with the South American countries supposedly inundating us with disease carriers.

As of this writing, the "patient zero" for the measles outbreak hasn't been identified. That is to say that we don't know who the first person with measles was to walk through the gates of Disneyland during the five day infection period. It's probably a person who traveled to the US after being infected with measles in another country — most likely somewhere in Europe, Africa or Asia, where measles vaccination rates are lower than the US. That person would only need to spread it to one or two unvaccinated Americans, who spread it to others, who spread it to others, and on and on.

No credible evidence exists the first measles case is from either an illegal immigrant, or a vaccinated child, as anti-vaccine advocate are claiming.

My child is so special he/she doesn't need your toxic vaccines — This is the most maddening lie about the measles outbreak, because it's entirely based on opinion. The other lies, while wrong, are at least somewhat plausible. But to claim that you don't vaccinate your kid because your kid is somehow "better" than the other kids is the logical fallacy known as special pleading — and also unfathomably arrogant.

When parents say things like "vaccines aren't for us" or "my kid has a strong immune system" or (and this one is my favorite) "my child is pure" what they're saying is that their kid is above the rules and they're better at parenting than those poor sheeple getting their toxic jabs. They believe science and nature don't apply to them, because they're "aware" and their kids are special snowflakes.

I hate to break it to these parents, but their kid isn't special. Neither is mine. Neither is yours. Neither is anyone's.

Not in that way. No person is above the rules when it comes to nature. Nobody gets a free pass.

Measles doesn't care if you eat organic, are GMO-free, never go to the doctor, have a strong immune system or have more purity than the other children. Polio isn't interested in your natural hygiene and ancient remedies. Rubella couldn't care less that you've "done your research" and "woken up." And if you think these are okay, wait till you get a good look at smallpox, who will end you without a second thought.

These diseases will do what they've evolved to do, which is fight to live and make more of themselves. The places they end up living will by and large be unvaccinated people — no matter how pure or special or granola they are. And these people who end up harboring these diseases might very well die.

Because that's what happens in nature.

This is the greatest lie, not just of this measles outbreak, but of the anti-vaccination movement in general: that some children are so special that they don't need vaccines to protect them - mom and dad will do it. And nature will vociferously disagree whenever it gets a chance.

So what will it take before there aren't any more anti-vaccine lies? One measles death? Ten? A rubella outbreak? A smallpox outbreak? Polio to make a comeback? How high will the bodies have to stack up before the anti-vaccine advocates and their enablers in medicine and the media say that this has gone way too far?

What will it take for the lies to stop?


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by Mike Rothschild

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