What’s Wrong With Catching the Measles!

22 07 2009
A child with Small Pox in Bangladesh 1973

A child with the now eradicated small pox in Bangladesh 1973

A recent article on the warning of a measles epidemic in New Zealand bought out some of the weird and wonderful ideas a (hopefully small) proportion of New Zealanders have about the measles.  What a polarizing subject it is!  The majority of people who were questioning the vaccination were taking what on the face of it is a reasonable stance in that the state should not be able to dictate health care to the public.

For a comprehensive discussion of the scientific reasons why such an argument is flawed I would suggest that you read the Science Based Medicine Blog.  But to summarize there are two principle issues namely herd immunity and risk.

There are members of the community who cannot have vaccinations due to age (such as babies) or due to medical conditions and therefore the only protection that they are afforded is herd immunity to avoid contracting preventable diseases.

Depending on the disease, for effective herd immunity the threshold for the percentage of the population to be immunized is between 75% and 95%.  Effectively, while there is a high number of immunized people, a parent who chooses not to immunize their child will be taking advantage of the herd immunity.  However, when to many parents refuse vaccinations the threshold drops to a point where the disease can thrive and even cause an epidemic.  Once an unvaccinated child contracts a disease they then have to deal with the next principle issue of risk.

The statistical likelihood of a child being harmed by a vaccine is considerably lower than if they actually contract the disease.  Diseases like the measles will cause a small proportion of children significant long term harm or even death due to pneumonia or brain swelling caused by encephalitis.  Such risks are dramatically reduced through the use of vaccination.  People with immunodeficiencies are far also more likely to suffer the extreme effects of these diseases.

So, when many parents refuse to vaccinate their children, it ends up putting many other children at risk.

That’s enough of the dry stuff.  I want to point out some of the pearl’s of wisdom out of the many anecdotal stories that came through the readers comments to the article:

Leigh # 4 asks:

“I would also like to question why the alternative homeopathic vaccination program that was available 20 years ago, which I used successfully, has been removed from the market? Yes, we middle-class parents like to question- and with very good reason!”

I can probably answer this one – it’s because injecting children with magic water does not vaccinate them against diseases!

Phil # 16 after accusing all studies that show the benefits of vaccines as being fraudulent stated:

“Please don’t vaccinate your children, they need to get measles, mumps, chicken pox etc. No-one wishes suffering for any child, but the human body needs to be exposed to these things to work correctly later in life. I believe, through years of research, that vaccinations may well be child abuse.”

So everyone who has had a vaccination and not subsequently contracted disease can not expect to have a body that works correctly later in life…show me the evidence.  Also, I would suggest you observe a child going through the discomfort of the measles, mumps, or the chicken pox – allowing your child to be inflicted with such diseases when they are preventable could also be argued as child abuse.

Les # 19 Does his best to totally butcher year 9 probability:

“Educated parents are aware of the risks, that’s why. A basic risk analysis will show the vaccine isn’t worth it. From the MOH own vaccination site: 1 in 1000 measles cases get inflammation of the brain so using 100 cases a year, it will take ten years before someone should have that complication. However, the same site shows the vaccine causes convulsions in one in 3000 recipients, and inflammation of the brain in 1 in a million. Assuming even 30,000 doses a year, thats at least 10 having convulsions. Not my child thank you”

So lets fairly compare 100 people who are not vaccinated and contracted the measles with 30,000 people who are given a vaccination…spot the imbalance!  In fact according the website if one thousand children contract the measles approximately one will get inflammation of the brain versus 0.001 children in one thousand who suffer inflammation of the brain from the vaccination (of course there still will be a small proportion of vaccinated people who get the measles – but usually because there is no herd immunity!).

Phil # 62 After providing an anecdote that shed no light on the discussion he said:

“Herd ammunity has been proven to be a load of hype, and cannot work. Outbreaks will always happen, and some cases will result in death. No vaccination campaign will ever stop that, even if you choose to believe it will. Vaccines are fraud. End of story, and the MoH knows this but will never back down in their promotion of it. So sad, for the millions who are harmed through vaccines. The diseases will happen anyway: it is not vaccines that has stopped them.”

And small pox just stopped itself…

I thought that Tim #31 gave a good summing up of the skeptical position:

“How is it that in this day and age we have people who believe that vaccines cause autism, 9/11 was carried out by the CIA, the moonlandings were a hoax etc etc. BUT they don’t believe the brain damage and harm the real diseases like measles can cause?

I am a ‘middle class, educated parent’ whatever that means. I say it is a crime not to vaccimate your kids when they are supplied free of charge by the government. What will happen when we have a polio outbreak? or worse… Just get the poor kids vaccinated NOW.”

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Apollo 11 Degaussed?

18 07 2009

Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11NASA’s recent reported admission that the original footage from the Apollo footage was degaussed along with 200,000 other tapes has resulted in a flurry of discussion on New Zealand’s Stuff website.  This combined with the release of re-mastered digital upgrades of footage taken of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing has provided additional ‘evidence’ for moon hoax conspiracy theorists that the USA never sent people to the moon.

However, I would be keen to know if anyone has a link to the news conference where Richard Nafzger, a NASA engineer, is alleged to have made the admission of the degaussing.  The news story reported on Stuff originated with Reuters and the identical story has been reported all over the world.  The NASA website simply states that a final report is nearly completed in relation to the missing tapes that will be released in the near future – or is this further evidence of the conspiracy?

It goes to show how far reaching the 2001 documentary “Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?” has entered into the popular consciousness and contributed to the creation of a bizarre but persistent conspiracy theory that is alive and well in New Zealand.  While many of the comments on the Stuff website were either indifferent or ridiculing the moon hoax conspiracy, a small but vocal minority were insistent that the USA never sent people to the moon.

One of the fervent moon hoax conspirators called ‘Paul T’ made a number of comments claiming that the classic image of Buzz Aldrin used on the Stuff website (and reposted above) is evidence of a fake as it shows evidence of having multiple lighting sources aside from the sun.

For a more comprehensive explanation, I will direct you to Phil Plait’s excellent Bad Astronomy website, but briefly Paul T is right – it does have multiple lighting sources, but not from stage lights.  The obvious lighting source is the sun and the others are the reflective surfaces around Buzz in the photo namely the moon itself!  The moon’s surface dust reflects a small percentage of the sunlight (which is why we see the moon from the Earth) and it serves to slightly illuminate images.  The exposure length and aperture of the camera will also be important in determining the brightness of the reflected light.

‘Paul T’ also makes the ridiculous claim that there were astronauts who were going to speak out about the hoax who died in mysterious circumstances.  This is presumably a reference to the tragic death of the three Apollo 1 astronauts in a launch pad fire.  All I can say is – show me the evidence!

However, the Stuff’s decision to focus on what are minor points in the scheme of the Apollo moon landing are unfortunate given its wide readership in New Zealand.  Lets hope they have something more of celebratory tone for Apollo 11’s 40th anniversary on Monday the 20th of July.