Spotted this article on Google news today: “Blair should tell the truth on MMR”, says Carol Vorderman. It’s an old one but it popped up on the current Google news – possibly because it’s been updated in some way. I don’t know, but I found the article fascinating anyway. I think it’s a good example of the media’s MMR obsession and it features a few of the usual suspects.
Carol, of course, was mentioned in Ben Goldacre’s “The media’s MMR hoax”. The article in question, meanwhile, seems to have been written by Beezy Marsh. Journalisted.com tells me that Beezy has written most often on these subjects: MMR, NHS, Health (with Government and Life Alliance [Note: I think that should actually be “Pro-Life Alliance”] not too far behind). I know her best for her work with the Daily Fail, but Beezy has also written for the Telegraph. Here’s one story she wrote and here is a letter to the Telegraph from Ben Goldacre.
Here’s another one, this time from 2008, that Beezy wrote. She points out that the government “failed to provide single jabs” (as if that was ever a good idea – it would have left children exposed unnecessarily to serious infectious diseases) and then quotes Richard Halvorsen and Jackie Fletcher. The article is headlined “Thousands of children to get a DOUBLE jab of MMR in ’emergency’ move to tackle measles epidemic” I don’t know why the ’emergency’ is in scare quotes, but I guess that the headline writer is using them negatively (Wikipedia). I also cannot see why the DOUBLE dose of MMR is emphasised, when the scariest part of that headline to me is the “MEASLES EPIDEMIC”, but that’s one for the Fail’s editorial staff to answer. Which prompts an interesting thought – while I know that Beezy and Carol have been very foolish indeed over MMR, I don’t know the names of the people who commissioned these articles or wrote the headlines. These are the anonymous morons who helped to invent (or at the very least stoke the flames of) the controversy. The real villains of the MMR hoax are not just those that wrote or contributed to these, frankly crap, stories but also those who edit and publish these newspapers – and those who buy them.
Anyway, back to the Vorderman piece: JABS spokesperson Jackie Fletcher is quoted in the article as saying that “the lives of 1,800 children who we now believe to have suffered due to MMR are being swept under the carpet”. Poster on the JABS forum are among the few who still believe that MMR causes autism. The belief also seems to encompass the idea that there is a conspiracy and that the government are somehow suppressing information on vaccines for some sinister reason. The more that comes out about MMR the less likely this seems (not that it ever was particularly likely). Like this: http://tinyurl.com/st-wakefield.
The Fail story that quotes Vorderman is an example of MMR Bad Science Bingo – quoting Jackie Fletcher, written by a health correspondent who seems not to understand the science, adding a dash of celebrity with Carol Vorderman’s ill-informed take on vaccines, and bashing Tony Blair and the government. The best quote is this one from Carol: “MMR was only introduced ten years ago. What happened before then? We didn’t all die.” Let’s see what did happen before then – this PDF: MMR – the facts; has graphs of measles, mumps, and rubella notifications prior to and since the introduction of vaccines, while this Lay Science blog post has some figures on the consequences of measles infection and the HPA website has a list of annual notifications of and deaths from measles here. Ridiculously, the canards in this Fail story seem to be the same ones that keep popping up now. Google “Jeni Barnett +MMR” if you don’t believe me. A few other people also seem not to have noticed that these are, in fact, canards.
Even the Google Ad links on the Fail site are dodgy. There’s a few ads for single vaccines, and this site: http://tinyurl.com/autism-causes; which claims that vaccines, Lyme disease, and environmental toxins cause autism (in a 70/20/10 percent split, no less) – and that autism can be reversed by taking their magic potions. They also do a nice line in Aids quackery. Google have a policy on advertising: http://tinyurl.com/ads-google (note that “advertising is not permitted for the promotion of miracle cures”) and their contact details are here: http://www.google.co.uk/contact/ should you wish to complain about any Google ad.
There’s an interesting page or three on the HPA website showing numbers and graphs relating to incidence of and deaths from measles 1940 to the present day.
You can look at, and compare, all sorts of things – deaths from measles in the 10 years prior to the vaccine being introduced, notifications of measles in each decade from the Forties onwards, or you could look at notifications of measles and death rates (1) prior to the single measles vaccine (2) for the duration of the period that the single vaccine was used and (3) for the period since the triple vaccine MMR was introduced.
The 10 years prior to the introduction of the single measles vaccine (1958-1967) brought 863 deaths (and 4,120,936 notifications) and in the 10 years following the introduction (1968-1977) there were 292 deaths (a fall of 571 deaths – or 66%) – and 1,600,979 notifications (a fall of 2,519,957, or 61%).
The last 10 years of the single measles vaccine saw 837,424 notifications of measles and the first 10 years following the introduction of MMR saw 106,210 notifications of the disease. This is a fall of 731,214 (87%). EDIT 25/2/09: I just worked out the change in number of deaths from measles comparing the ten-year periods 1979-88 and 1989-98 and it went from 140 to 18 – a fall of 87%, mirroring the percentage fall in notifications. So, deaths and notifications both fell about 60-65% following the introduction of the single measles jab in 1968 and deaths and notifications both fell a further 87% following the introduction of the MMR triple vaccine in 1988.
What does all this mean? It means that before we had a vaccine, measles affected many people in this country and killed a significant number of them. It also means that since the introduction of MMR, measles notifications and deaths have dropped still further. Anyone who scaremongers about the MMR vaccine or makes ridiculous claims about measles being insignificant should look at the number of people who used to get measles before we had a vaccine and the number of deaths from the disease. They might also like to bear in mind the complications of measles – this PDF gives rates of complications from measles infection – 1 in 100 are sick enough to be admitted to hospital, 1 in 200 suffer convulsions, 1 in 1,000 suffer meningitis or encephalitis, and 1 in 2,500-5,000 die. In 1968, just after the introduction of the single vaccine, there were 236,154 cases of measles and 51 deaths. In 1988, the last year before the introduction of MMR, there were about 86,000 cases and 16 deaths. Twenty years apart, but the death rate was still the same – 0.02%, or 1 in 5,000. Which is an improvement on the 0.2% (1 in 500) that was seen in 1940, but it still means that if measles were to increase to levels seen in 1940 (400,000 cases) a conservative estimate of the number of deaths (using the 1 in 5,000 figure) would be 80 a year. Using the lower figure of 1 in 2,500 (a ratio of deaths to notifications seen in 1993, incidentally), the number of deaths for 400,000 measles cases would be 160. Do we really need 80-160 deaths a year from measles before people start to think about what they are actually saying when they imply that the MMR vaccine is harmful?
ETA 15/2/09: DeeTee has posted a link on the Bad Science forums to this paper: a PDF that, on page 3, includes reference to the complications suffered from measles.
Otitis media (middle ear infection) 19%
Meanwhile, Gadgeezer points out that “On average every child with measles infects 15 others.”