By Lyn Redwood, R.N., M.S.N., co-founder of SafeMinds
I’ve blogged about the one-sided and exaggerated media coverage of the measles before. My colleagues and I are used to name-calling. But the hate circulating on the Internet and in mainstream newspapers about measles this week has escalated so much that even I am in shock.
In case you missed it, there is an article in USA Today claiming that non-vaccinating parents should be jailed and a Forbes opinion piece suggesting lawyers should sue parents whose children are not vaccinated against the measles.
The mainstream is actually endorsing and promoting the idea that we should put parents in jail, take their children away from them, and vaccinate the children against their parents’ best judgment. In America, not Stalin’s Soviet Union.
I’m tired of the exaggeration, the obfuscation, and the one-sided reporting.
Journalists, public health officials, and parents of all stars and stripes need to understand that there are two sides to this discussion, that vaccination is not a cure-all, and that much of the measles media hype directly contradicts the science.
Ready for my reality check about the measles outbreaks in America?
Myth #1: Measles has become an epidemic in America.
Reality Check: Measles is not epidemic, autism is.
From January 1 to January 23, 68 people in 11 states have had the measles, according to the CDC. Out of a population of over 300 million people.
“Last year, about 1 in every 500,000 Americans came down with the measles,” Gayle DeLong, Ph.D., an associate professor of economics and finance at the Zicklin School of Business in New York who has researched these issues for several years, explains. “Nearly all recovered in a few days without serious consequences. At the same time, about 1 in 68 American children had autism, a crippling neurological disease. Put another way, for everyone who had measles last year, there were over 7,000 children with autism. Which is the epidemic?”
Myth #2: Measles is deadly to American children.
Reality Check: Measles is almost always a mild disease in developed countries. Deaths are rare and far between.
In the last twenty years in the United States, there has been fewer than one death per year from the measles. It is difficult to find accurate data on this but, according to the CDC, there have been no deaths from measles in the last five years.
In other words, your child’s risk of dying from the measles in the United States hovers right around (wait for it) … 0.
This is an emotional debate. But if we take our fear and emotions out of the equation, we find that our children are at a vastly greater risk of being hit by lightening, or, sadly, from complications from the MMR vaccination itself, than of dying from complications of the measles.
Nearly 50 percent of children with autism will wander away from a safe environment. They are at high risk of dying from accidental drowning. Children with autism also often have other health problems that sometimes kill them. Scores of children with autism have died in the past few years (source), like 4-year-old Jayden Morrison, 16-year-old Erick Ortiz, and 6-year-old Dena Burns. I can’t tell you the exact number, but I can tell you that people with autism have between twice and nearly ten times the risk of dying than people who do not have it.
Myth #3: Measles is a terrifying disease.
Reality Check: Measles is a bad rash and, yes, it can be terrifying if you’re a new parent who is unfamiliar with the disease.
The truth is measles is very contagious. So contagious that you can contract it from air droplets left by someone who is no longer in the room with you.
The truth is that it can also be terrifying if your child gets a bad rash and a high fever from the measles.
But the other truth is that the majority of people who have severe—or even any—complications from the measles are those who live in developing countries who do not have access to clean water and healthy food.
How do I know that measles is usually a mild disease?
Not only because the World Health Organization states as much:
“Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases.” [My emphasis.]
But also because I had the measles when I was a kid. It was so mild I don’t even remember being sick! And my husband, who is an emergency room doctor, also had the measles as a kid. He remembers being happy to have the measles because his older brother had them at the same time and they got to be sick together.
If you think I’m downplaying the severity of the measles, watch this 8-minute YouTube compilation. These popular TV shows all show that measles really were not a big deal.
So why the measles hysteria?
Because, according to the CDC, the best strategy for increasing the uptake for vaccines is to promote the perception that “many people are falling ill” and the perception “of vulnerability to contracting the disease and experiencing bad illness.”
The measles hype is the latest in the infectious disease hysteria (I’m thinking SARS, Avian bird flu, MERS, the list goes on) that is a smoke screen for the real and devastating health problems in America right now.
You’ve heard me say this before, but the real problem in America that the media is ignoring is chronic disease:
- Poor mental health
The cost of measles to our society is very low.
But the cost of autism to our society is exorbitant.
The costs of providing care for each person with autism affected through his or her lifespan are $2.3 million in the U.S. Autism is currently estimated to cost society a staggering $126 billion per year – a number that has more than tripled since 2006 (source).
And those numbers do not factor in the emotional costs to a family, the money spent by local law enforcement when children with autism run away, the collective social burden of adults who cannot function independently, or the exhausting day-to-day tasks of changing the diapers of a 17-year-old.
Myth #4 The MMR vaccine is safe.
Reality Check: MMR vaccination may well be more dangerous than the measles.
Though most people who receive the MMR vaccine are not going to have any noticeable and immediate adverse reactions, in 2014, vaccine recipients reported over 3,300 adverse events from the MMR vaccine, including 132 serious reactions.
The adverse reactions that have been reported in clinical trials following the MMR vaccine are too numerous for me to list here. I’ll just give you a few highlights: anaphylactic shock, thrombocytopenia, arthritis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and … death.
The MMR combination vaccine carries such a high risk of fever and febrile seizures for children ages 12 to 23 months of age for seven to ten days after the vaccine that researchers, who published their findings in a study in Pediatrics that has been largely ignored, concluded that doctors must inform parents of the elevated risk.
Even more troubling, a recent study that has also been conveniently ignored by the medical mainstream, found that when the combined measles vaccine was given to girls at 12 months of age it was associated with a 1 in 110 risk of an emergency room visit and/or hospitalization.
Then there is the fact that the CDC manipulated and falsified data in one of the epidemiological studies that “proves” that vaccines do not cause autism. The data they left out, according to a CDC scientist, shows that African-American boys are at a much higher risk of getting autism following MMR vaccination before 36 months of age.
On September 23, 2014 an Italian court awarded compensation to a family whose son had vaccine-induced autism, confirming that the MMR vaccine can cause autism.
And the American government has also acknowledged that vaccines can lead to autism in susceptible children. Hannah Poling’s father is a prominent doctor. Her mother is a nurse and a lawyer. A normally developing child, Hannah became severely damaged by vaccines, including the MMR vaccine. She now needs 24-hour 7-day a week care. The family was compensated for her vaccine-induced autism by the federal government.
Myth #5: The mainstream media is telling you the truth.
Reality Check: The mainstream media is systematically shutting down any intelligent and open discussion about vaccine safety and how to improve it.
Jonathan Rose, Ph.D., William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of History at Drew University, has a compelling reason why:
“The mainstream media is telling only one side of the story because it has lost so much advertising revenue to the Web, and is therefore dependent on one of the few industries that continues to advertise in traditional media: the pharmaceutical companies,” Rose explained to us in an email exchange this week.
“In her recent book, Stonewalled, Sharyl Attkisson reported that CBS was pressured by pharmaceutical advertisers after she aired a story about adverse reactions to vaccines,” Rose continues. “And not long ago an article touting vaccines appeared in Parade magazine: fully a third of the advertisements in that issue were placed by pharmaceutical companies.
“Even Katie Couric, probably the best-known journalist in America, was forced to back off after she aired a program that reported both sides of the story about Gardasil, featuring those who defended its safety and effectiveness and those who alleged that some girls had been seriously injured by the vaccine. So the only media that remain free to report honestly about vaccines are those not dependent on drug advertising: books and alternative websites.”
Myth #6: Anti-vaxxers are stupid.
Reality check: Anti-vaxxers may not even exist, but those choosing to forego some vaccines for legitimate reasons are among the best educated and the most intelligent people in America.
The umbrella “anti-vax” insult includes parents who chose to forego just one or two vaccines, parents whose children have had severe reactions to vaccines and can no longer vaccinate, and even people, like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., whose children are fully vaccinated on the recommended schedule but who speak openly about their concerns about vaccine safety.
But who are these lazy, stupid, selfish parents? Let me give you just a few examples: They are people like Yale-educated Aviva Romm, M.D. who has spent her career empowering women to take charge of their health; San Diego-based pediatrician Jay Gordon, M.D., who was a senior fellow in pediatric nutrition at Sloan-Kettering in New York City and on the faculty of UCLA Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center; and Howard Morningstar, M.D., who graduated from Yale Medical School and did his residency in family medicine at Brown University.
Indeed, several studies, including this one, have shown that it is usually the most highly educated, affluent families who choose to forgo some vaccines.
Professor Rose has something to say about those “anti-vaxxers” we’ve all been reading about as well.
“Most of them aren’t actually anti-vaxxers,” Rose insists. “By definition, antivaccinationists reject all vaccines. Relatively few people take that radical position, though their numbers are growing. A much larger proportion of the population are ‘vaccine skeptics’–that is, those who refuse some but not all vaccines. But the term ‘anti-vaxxer’ is commonly used to smear anyone who has any reservations about any vaccine. In much the same way, back in the McCarthy era, the epithet ‘Commie’ was applied to civil rights workers, beatniks, labor union reformers, Hubert Humphrey liberals, and occasionally (but not very often) actual members of the (tiny) American Communist Party.
In the past, resistance to vaccines was concentrated among the illiterate and the working classes, but today the resisters tend to be well educated, and often have graduate degrees. Vaccine advocates find it difficult to explain why the best educated people would deliberately and recklessly endanger the health of the children. The answer, obviously, is that these people have research skills, they know how to find and read scientific papers, and thus they discover problems with vaccines that aren’t reported in the mainstream media.”
All this measles hype is diverting our attention away from any serious discussion of what our public health priorities should be.
I’m worried about chronic disease.
I’m worried about autism.
I’m worried about vaccine safety.
I’m worried about the kids who are aging out of state-funded help.
I’m worried about supporting parents who are at their wit’s ends because their children are so sick.
We do have something to fear: the rising rates of autism.
Stopping the autism epidemic, helping children with autism, and finding a cure for this sometimes debilitating disease should be our nation’s first priority and concern. Support SafeMinds efforts to do this by donating today.
Lyn Redwood, R.N., M.S.N., is a survivor of measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox. She is the vice president and co-founder of SafeMinds.