More Measles Rubbish

Ben Goldacre has had another week of run-ins with the residual anti-MMR lobby. Kudos to the Times’ David Aaronovitch for telling the story that didn’t appear in Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column in the Guardian today, probably because of legal threats from LBC radio.

This story involved Ben Goldacre’s response to a broadcast about the MMR vaccine on a London radio station. You can get the broadcast from wikileaks. I had read all the blog posts on but I half assumed that that Goldacre was exaggerating a bit until I listened to the show….

Among all the other nonsense, the thing that really irritated me was that the broadcaster and a “qualified homeopath” anti-vaccine mum argued that measles is an insignificant illness that any healthy child would easily overcome. (Just ignore, for a moment, the impact of a new measles epidemic on kids who aren’t healthy. And the fact that, by definition, a kid who is suffering from measles is certainly NOT healthy at that point. ) A bit like having a minor rash with a cold, almost. This point of view is expressed in one of the comments on the Times piece:

Could someone on this thread please explain why measles is now considered such a threat. This is a genuine enquiry because when I was a child catching measles was considered simply as part of growing up, no big deal and, indeed, something which would actually harden immunity.

How impressive that one respondent, who can actually remember a time when measles was widespread, isn’t wearing the Daily Mail-issue rose-tinted rear-vision goggles:

Measles are just a few spots and the children get a rash, that was statement I heard a young mum say . Having nursed most types of fevers in the forties please get through to young mums Measles is dangerous, often fatal.

If you aren’t convinced by an old nurse, what about the Measles Initiative (made up of the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, American Red Cross and others)? According to their website:

Measles is one of the leading killers of children worldwide. An estimated 540 children die each day from the disease…
Since 2001, the Measles Initiative has saved lives by supporting the vaccination of more than 600 million children in more than 60 countries.
Between 2000 and 2007, measles deaths fell by 74% globally and by 89% in Africa alone.

The broadcaster and her chosen non-cattle (basically, that’s how she described parents who opposed the vaccination) seemed to think that they could get expert knowledge on vaccines by searching the internet. Seriously. (Well, the internet isn’t allowed to lie, after all.) So, I’d suggest that they might try googling the deaths and cases of brain damage caused by measles and maybe evaluating some of the “evidence”

In case the anti-vaccine parents think that their relatively-privileged lives mean their children are somehow charmed, Aaronovitch pointed out:

…over the past decade we have managed the interesting – and almost unprecedented – trick of reintroducing into this country a disease that had more or less disappeared. A few children will have died as a result and some others will suffer serious long-term health problems. These figures correlate to the drop in parents giving their children the MMR vaccination.