Thursday, February 14, 2013

Anti-Vaccination Messages Targeted To Children

Stephanie Messenger is an Australian anti-vaccine activist and self-published author.  She recently published a children’s book, the title is Melanie’s Marvelous Measles.

According to Messenger’s website, she wrote the book to:  “Educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully. Often today, we are being bombarded with messages from vested interests to fear all diseases in order for someone to sell some potion or vaccine, when, in fact, history shows that in industrialized countries, these diseases are quite benign and, according to natural health sources, beneficial to the body.”

Unfortunately, the message that Messenger missed was that measles is responsible for thousands of tragic deaths each year.  These deaths could be prevented through vaccination.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2011 there were 158,000 deaths from measles, or 18 deaths per hour. 

WHO also states that measles vaccination resulted in a 71% drop in measles deaths worldwide between 2000 and 2011.  However, 158,000 deaths a year for a disease we have a vaccination for is unacceptable.  Measles is a highly contagious virus and most of those who died were children under the age of five.  There is nothing marvelous about measles.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the game company Tiltfactor has been using games to educate people about vaccinations.  Previously, Tiltfactor had developed a game called Pox to address misinformation about vaccines and recently introduced zombie-themed games. 

In addition to Pox, Tiltfactor now has a zombie invasion board game, an iPad app and a card game.  In each of the games, players figure out which people need to be vaccinated to slow the spread of the zombies.  To date the board game and card game have been the most popular, and the most effective at raising awareness about vaccinations.

Children's books and games have the potential to educate parents and kids about the value of vaccination. These opportunities should be capitalized on to answer questions and relieve unnecessary fears. Anti-vaccination messages delivered in children's books are a whole new face of the Anti-Vaccine movement that should not go unanswered. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Meningitis Vaccine and Paralysis

In early January, the website VacTruth published a blog post by Christina England about how meningitis vaccination in a small town in Chad (northern Africa) paralyzed 40 children.  The blog quoted an anonymous relative of one child and spoke of parents being paid off not to talk about the paralysis.  The only other source was LaVoix, a weekly print-only paper in Chad.

The meningitis vaccine that VacTruth claims has caused the paralysis is called MenAfriVac and is manufactured by Serum Institute of India Limited.  This vaccine is unique because it can travel outside of the cold chain.  VacTruth claims that 40 out of 500 children vaccinated with MenAfriVac in the town of Gouro were paralyzed.  That is 8% of all vaccinated. 

According to the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), in December 2012, MenAfriVac was administered to its 100 millionth person in the “meningitis belt” of Africa, which includes Chad.  The vaccine has been on the market for two years after being introduced in Burkina Faso, and has been administered to millions of others outside of Africa.  Further research by Vaccine Watch can find no other cases of paralysis from MenAfriVac.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and other agencies have been working to control a severe meningitis outbreak in Chad since 2011.  The symptoms stated in the VacTruth article are consistent with a meningitis outbreak, and not a reaction to the vaccine.

All meningitis vaccines, including MenAfriVac need to be administered individually, as they can have adverse reactions when mixed with other vaccinations.  Because of the meningitis outbreak in Chad and other variables that could have affected the administration of MenAfriVac, Vaccine Watch believes it is premature to jump to conclusions that the injuries these children have are because of MenAfriVac.

The Meningitis Vaccine Project currently has a team in Chad investigating the claims first published by La Voix.  Vaccine Watch will continue to watch for developments on this story and seek the truth from reliable sources.  Readers should be wary of sites like VacTruth that distribute misinformation without reliable sources.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Flu Epidemic

This year, the flu has reached epidemic levels earlier than usual across the United States.  Sarah Kliff posted a blog on the Washington Post website about why 64.8 percent of Americans didn’t receive a flu vaccine.

The Washington Post points out that while 95 percent of students that entered kindergarten last year were vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that only 36.5 percent of Americans received flu vaccinations by November 2012.  That percentage has been rising over the course of the flu season.

This statistic is not new or shocking to researchers.  The Washington Post spoke with Lori Uscher-Pines from the RAND Corp., who has studied flu vaccine rates.  Uscher-Pines points out that adults are not in constant contact with their health-care system like children are, and other than getting the flu; most Americans face no negative consequences if they aren’t vaccinated. But the flu itself can be serious, especially in the very young, elderly, and chronically ill.

The Rand Corp. also found negative perceptions about the flu vaccine in their 2011 study.  Statements like “I don’t need it” and “I don’t believe in flu vaccines” were used by over half of unvaccinated adults in the study.

The flu vaccine does have a lower efficacy than other vaccines; this year’s flu vaccine is 62% effective, whereas the MMR vaccine is 95 percent effective.   This year the flu vaccine is a particularly good match to the season’s influenza virus. There is a much better chance of not getting the flu when vaccinated, so why aren’t more people vaccinated?

Wake Forest University researchers studied flu vaccine trends by having participants play a video game that simulated the spread of the flu.  They earned points by staying healthy, and could use some of those points to buy a vaccine.  If the price of the vaccine was lower, participants were more likely to buy it.  As more people in the game became infected with the flu, vaccination rates increased.

According to the Financially Digital blog, coming down with the flu will cost the average person between $180 and $200.   That cost will rise if a small child is sick with the flu. This figure takes into account: missed work, medicine and other variables.  Neither blog mentioned how miserable being sick with the flu really is.  The protection that high vaccination rates bring to entire communities was also not highlighted. Vaccine Watch recommends making an informed decision about the flu vaccine; the odds are in favor of the vaccine.