Measles cases reach 13-year high – guess who I blame?

November 28, 2008 at 3:02 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Dangerously Wrong, Media) (, , , , , )

The media, of course. Well, mainly. Figures such as Andrew Wakefield and Arthur Krigsman played their parts too and the JABS forumites are well known for being dangerously wrong. There is currently a thread over there relating to the rise in measles and it would be interesting to see the responses. See Struthers, Stone and Fletcher’s rabid responses on the BMJ website here for a rough guide.

Here is the BBC report. Here is a Bad Science post arguing that people really do listen to journalists. The BMJ has a paper on MMR uptake that shows that 9.5% of parents consciously choosing not to immunise did so on the basis of negative media coverage. Other reasons included “being too scared or thinking the vaccine was too dangerous”, “not wanting to their child to receive MMR” and “fears over possible links with autism”. It would not shock me if it turned out that the decisions of many of the parents who gave these reasons were informed by media coverage too. Some bloggers did predict a rise in measles. And now it’s here.


From me: here is an old post on JABS and Whale. Here’s an Open Letter to JABS Admin.


  1. Dr* T said,

    They haven’t written too much about it, apart from to suggest that measles isn’t dangerous and a 10-fold increase in 10 years is nothing to worry about.

    Quite extraordinary – being deluded into a position is one thing, but not being able to accept and admit you were wrong is particularly distasteful , given that there are still people looking for advice. People like JABS are not blame-free.

  2. Anthony said,

    Figures such as Andrew Wakefield and Arthur Krigsman played their parts too

    Think of the media as a vial of incredibly volatile explosive. We all know its properties. We all know how it reacts to agitation.

    So some great big oaf walks in and gives a damn big shake. Who do we blame, the explosive? Or the lunatic who set it off?

  3. jdc325 said,

    I take your point Anthony, but individuals will always have, um, wacky ideas and if the media are going to keep on falling over themselves to print these ideas – that are sometimes not just wacky* but are also dangerous – then we’re going to see repeats of this sort of thing. Without Wakefield there might well have been no flames for the media to fan, but I think the media’s hoax has wider implications than just the rise in measles. What happens when the next maverick scientist comes up with a hypothesis with the potential to become not just a health scare, but a danger to public health? Going by the media’s performance (not just in terms of MMR, but their reporting on other health and science stories too) and their unwillingness to apologise, accept blame or ever admit even to being wrong, I don’t feel optimistic.

    There will always be mavericks, there will always be scientists who see what they want to see (or ignore conflicting evidence) – blaming them for the scares that could follow the uncritical publicising of their ideas (usually articles by lifestyle commentators rather than science journalists) seems unfair and inaccurate to me. I don’t think we should let Wakefield, Krigsman, or JABS off the hook and I certainly think they’ve said and done things that they should be criticised for but the whole MMR scare was really set going (and kept going) by the mainstream media.

    Dr* T – totally agreee that people like JABS are not blame-free. I’ve seen some monumentally stupid things written on the JABS forum, and the main site come to that. They have actively encouraged parents to take risks with their children’s health (e.g. in the open letter to JABS admin). I’ve also seen some very unpleasant bullying by members of JABS (including comments I consider to be homophobic).

    *I seriously need to think of a better description of these ideas than “wacky”.

  4. Sensibly Common said,

    You’re certainly right to point out the scaremongery of the press, and to be honest I was surprised at the large number of people who repeat the misinformed opinion of ten-year-old newspaper articles.

    I’d written an off-the-cuff blog post about this news ( ) (caution: sweary ranting) I guess it’d be interesting to see the correlation between cases of measles and mumps, uptake rates, and number of articles about MMR over the last 10 years!

    Oh, and thanks for pointing out JABS, I’ll have a good old read of that later.

  5. Ian H said,

    Many thanks for post – I am about to use some of the ideas with my Year 13 (Physics) class as an exercise in common sense – which seems remarkably rare at present. Could I wave a web reference?

    Astonishing idea… let’s pander to bad science by offering single vaccines with the unavoidable percentages who miss follow-up or later immunisations. The writer suggests that MMR is ‘simpler and cheaper’ than sinlge vaccines, and I think fails to understand the issues with missed immunisations.

    Although I have no data (I would love some if anyone has pointers) I would predict that the more vaccinations needed, the higher the number who would miss some and so not be immune. Now, I may be over simplifying:

    At present, 84% get their first MMR so let’s generously call them ‘triple immune’.

    Assuming that with single vaccines everyone decides wonderful, no worries about wakefield-induced-autism now, we’ll get it sorted out for Jonny; if only 5% are incompetent at each round of the single vaccine, we get about 86% who are ‘triple immune’. So we need 95% competence to get about the same level of protection. Do we really want to be that optimistic?

    Ian H

  6. jdc325 said,

    This PDF has charts showing the incidence of measles, mumps and rubella on page 2. The measles chart shows notification of disease and you can see the difference that the single measles vaccine made, but also the difference that the triple vaccine made. Also shows why Wakefield’s ideas re single vaccines were dangerous:

    Following Dr Wakefield’s advice leaves a child exposed for at least one year to two of the diseases that MMR protects against, and unprotected against one of the diseases for at least two years.

    EDIT: I’ve found a claim that uptake for single measles vaccine 1968-1988 “never exceeded 76%”: Another pdf.

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