Measles outbreaks, religion, and the reality of the antivaccine movement

If there’s one thing antivaccinationists hate having pointed out to them, it’s that they are antivaccine. If you really want to drive an antivaccinationist up the wall, point out that they are antivaccine. Sure, there are a few antivaccinationists who openly self-identify as antivaccine and are even proud of it, but most of them realize that society frowns upon them—as well it should given how antivaccinationists are responsible for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease. Moreover, most antivaccine activists really believe that vaccines are harmful. They’re wrong, of course, but that doesn’t make them any less true believers. They really believe they are doing good as they do evil. Part of the reason that they believe that they’re doing good is because they manage to convince themselves that they are not actually “antivaccine,” but rather “pro-safe vaccine” or “pro-vaccine safety.” Of course, it’s fairly easy to put the lie to that claim. All you have to do is to ask them which vaccines they recommend, or if there are any vaccines that they would give to their children; alternatively, you can ask them what, specifically, it would take for them to start vaccinating their children. In the first case, the usual answer will be that no vaccine is recommended. In the second case, the response will usually be so convoluted and with so many conditions as to be virtually impossible for any vaccine to meet. For example, absolute 100% complete safety will be demanded before vaccination would even be considered.

Another thing that belies the claim by antivaccinationists that they are not “antivaccine” is how so many of them seem to be proud of discouraging other parents from vaccinating. For instance, I once pointed out that J.B. Handley, the founder of the antivaccine organization Generation Rescue, gloated over how his band “held together with duct tape and bailing wire, is in the early to middle stages of bringing the U.S. vaccine program to its knees.” Now, Anne Dachel, “Media Editor” for the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism is doing the same thing in a post entitled Google News Search on Vaccines, Exemptions Turns Up? All of Us:

Forget the autism issue. Just go to Google News and look up “Vaccines, Exemptions.” It’s a really big topic. Parents aren’t buying all the claims that vaccines are safe.

Despite a massive effort by health officials and doctors, parents continue to fear that vaccines can do more harm than good. Stories about more parents exempting their children are everywhere. I can’t help but notice that there’s special concern about the vaccination rates for kindergarten kids. If the youngest students are more likely to be exempted, that can’t be good for the vaccine promoters.

And I’m sure the pro-vaccine people don’t like to see these stories out there. If more parents are opting out, they may have good reasons. It causes other parents to be concerned too. If they start to really look into the issue, there’s plenty of info out there to scare them out of vaccinating.

Did you get that? Let me repeat it: Scare them out of vaccinating. That is the goal of people like Anne Dachel and her ilk. It is not to improve vaccine safety. It is, rather, the classic denialist desire to foment fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about vaccines. The end result of this FUD is to scare other parents out of vaccinating. Anne Dachel is antivaccine and proud of it, claims otherwise by various bloggers at AoA notwithstanding. To demonstrate that, as befits her position as the “media editor” of AoA whose main job appears to be to list stories on vaccines on AoA in order to send her flying monkeys swooping down into the comments of such stories to flood them with antivaccine pseudoscience, Dachel lists multiple stories about “concerns” over vaccines. One story notes that the state with the highest rate of vaccination among kindergarteners is Mississippi, at 99.9%, while the state with the lowest rate is Colorado, with only 82.9% of kindergarteners adequately covered by vaccines. Meanwhile, Vermont has the highest rate of non-medical exemptions.

I discussed another example of how antivaccine activists are not “pro-vaccine safety” just yesterday. I’m referring, of course, to the truly despicably deceptive claim that shaken baby syndrome is a misdiagnosis for vaccine injury. I hadn’t planned on revisiting that claim or the posts that I used as a jumping off point to talk about this most vile of antivaccine claims. However, it was pointed out to me just how much commenters after version of the story I discussed posted at back up my assertions that there is indeed an “antivaccine movement,” and that most antivaccinationists are not “pro-vaccine safety” but rather truly antivaccine. For example, one commenter called Free People writes:

You know Glad, what this proves is the party is over for the Medical Cartel and its Vaccine Klan who have become so greedy for the $$$$..they don’t care who they kill, maim and disable. Their agenda is now blatantly obvious due to excessive greed! The numbers are astronomical, worldwide, so high and no way to keep track and count the dead and sick due Quackery of the highest order that provides ZERO immunity to any of these diseases. That’s the saddest part. So many precious lives lost and sick for a vaccine ‘experiment’ that still doesn’t work (except for diabolic evil).

If saying that vaccines don’t work at all, cause horrible health issues, and are only used because of corporate greed isn’t antivaccine, I don’t know what is.

Another commenter called Gladiatoro writes:

When poison is taken by the mouth, the internal defense system has a chance to
quickly eject some of it by vomiting, but when the poisons are shot directly
into the body via VACCINES bypassing all the natural safeguards, these dangerous poisons circulate immediately throughout the entire body in a matter of seconds and
keep on circulating until all the cells are poisoned.

And another commenter called Nancy responds:

The only “point” to vaccines is to kill, maim, and sicken children, and they certainly perform this deadly function.

And when one parent foolishly states that she’s had her children vaccinated and criticizes antivaccine parents for leaving their children unprotected, a commenter by the name of Sherry Pulford Land rebukes her:

Tat, it seems to me you ARE ramming your beliefs down your childrens throats!! Better check yourself!! They know why you don’t want what you want, but they have no say so?

That’s right. According to these people, parents who vaccinate their children are “ramming their beliefs down their children’s throats.” They also believe that vaccines are pure evil, entities whose only purpose is to kill, maim, and sicken, although why scientists who develop vaccines would want to kill, maim, and sicken children is never really explained. Usually it’s some sort of vague conspiracy theory in which these scientists and pediatricians, usually in the thrall of big pharma, want to ensnare children for the rest of their lives in pharma dependency, such that they have to take pills for diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and various other chronic health conditions. These are the people who are trying to influence others into not vaccinating. They are fanatical, and they are relentless. Indeed, they are very much like a religion.

Speaking of religion, there is a church that is demonstrating just how dangerous antivaccine views can be. It’s been in the news for several days now, and I had meant to blog about it, so I thought I’d seque into mentioning them because 21 cases of measles have been linked to this church:

A Texas megachurch linked to at least 21 measles cases has been trying to contain the outbreak by hosting vaccination clinics, officials said Monday.

The outbreak started when a person who contracted measles overseas visited Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, located about 20 miles north of Fort Worth, Texas. Officials with area health departments said those affected by the outbreak range in age from 4-months to 44-years-old. All of the school-aged children with measles were homeschooled, and majority of those who were infected had not been vaccinated.

This case turns out to be very instructive about vaccines and the price in public health that we pay when antivaccine sentiments get out of hand. The first lesson is that, for highly contagious vaccine-preventable diseases such as the measles, it doesn’t take much to degrade herd immunity to the point where outbreaks can occur. The second lesson is that there is no such thing as “local” anymore. After all, the origin of the outbreak appears to have been a church member who traveled to Indonesia and became infected with the measles. That church member then returned and spread it to the largely unvaccinated church congregation. Even though the overall rate of MMR uptake in the county in which the Eagle Mountain International Church is located is generally high (around 98%), all it takes for an outbreak to occur is a pocket of people with low vaccine uptake, and the church represented just that.

This particular church is part of Kenneth Copeland Ministries. (Terri Pearsons is Kenneth Copeland’s daughter.) If you want to get an idea of what Copeland thinks of vaccines, take a look at this video of Copeland’s show. Check out the segment beginning around 20:30. It’s preceded by a whole bunch of “natural healing” woo that you could easily find at, and then Copeland brings up how with the birth of his great grandchild he noted the issue of “all these shots” hitting home:

I knew this was going on but then it came to be personal when it came to him and talking to Jeremy and Sarah about him [Copeland’s first great grandson] and all of these shots and all this stuff that they wanted to put in his body and him this big. Wow, I got to looking into that, and some of it is criminal. Now, I’m harder on them than you are, but you got to live with ’em and I don’t. You’re not putting hepatitis—what is it?—hepatitis B in an infant. It’s crazy, man. It’s a shot for a sexually transmitted disease. What? In a baby? Come on, now. You’ve stirred up the fighting side of me, coming at my child, or my grandchild, or my great grandchild with this whole list. As parents we need to be a whole lot more serious about this and be aware of what is good and what isn’t. You don’t take the word of the guy that’s trying to give the shot about what’s good and what isn’t. You better read the can or read the thing. Find out what’s going on there and get the information, because I’m telling you, it is very dangerous the things that are happening around us all the time.

Copeland then talks with his guests, apparently Dr. Don Colbert, who starts pulling out antivaccine tropes, such as babies getting “38 shots” before they’re five, and ranting about “fifteen different vaccines.” He then quite rapidly trots out the “autism epidemic” trope about how autism prevalence has skyrocketed since 1985 and—surprise! surprise!—relates it to the vaccine schedule. Colbert then starts telling tales of autistic regression after the MMR vaccine. He then trots out the “toxins” gambit as well as the “too many too soon” trope, the “aluminum” gambit, and the ever-dreaded “monkey diploid cells” gambit, all while Copeland nods approvingly and agrees.

Not surprisingly, I conclude based on his statements on Copeland’s TV show that Dr. Colbert is a certified, grade-A antivaccine loon. Others agree about his quackery. He’s also published various screeds about mercury in vaccines. Just check out his Divine Health webpage. It’s a veritable cornucopia of woo, including supplements,

Sadly, like the whole of the U.K. paid for Andrew Wakefield’s anti-MMR fear mongering, the Eagle Mountain International Church is now paying the price for Kenneth Copeland and Terri Pearson’s fear mongering about vaccines, not to mention their complete embrace of faith healing quackery, which combined with standard antivaccine fears of autism to produce a disastrously low rate of vaccine uptake among the children of church members. Not surprisingly, among the people sickened by measles, most were either unvaccinated or undervaccinated. So is the Netherlands, which is currently in the middle of a massive measles outbreak, with over 1,100 cases reported thus far, thanks to the prevalence of religion-inspired antivaccination views. So are Jews in Brooklyn, where there was also a major outbreak of measles (58 cases) tied to a group of families that refused to vaccinate.

The interesting part of the story of this latest outbreak is the reaction of the Eagle Mountain Church to the outbreak. The leadership of the church appears to be doing an about face on their stand against vaccination. Indeed, Terri Pearsons herself is now urging church members who haven’t been vaccinated to be vaccinated:

Some people think I am against immunizations, but that is not true. Vaccinations help cut the mortality rate enormously. I believe it is wrong to be against vaccinations. The concerns we have had are primarily with very young children who have family history of autism and with bundling too many immunizations at one time.

Pearsons correctly concludes that the risk of getting measles during an outbreak far exceeds the risk of vaccination. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to understand that the risk of the MMR during normal times is also far less than the risk of getting measles. (She also recommends 1,000 units of vitamin D a day for children, 2,000 units for adults.) Still, it’s a start. Sometimes it takes actually experiencing the disease for a community to realize that it’s dangerous. Such a brush with a highly contagious disease like the measles can, as they say, put the fear of god into antivaccinationists. Sadly, it rarely lasts, and even outbreaks don’t deter the religion of antivaccinationism.