Aug 22 2008

Measles Outbreak – Thanks, Jenny

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Comments: 34

The CDC yesterday updated their report on recent cases of measles. In 2000, thanks to the aggressive vaccination program, measles was declared eradicated from the US. There continued to be on average 63 cases per year from 2001-2007 due to imported cases from outside the US. To ironically quote Jim Carrey from the aptly titled, A Series of Unfortunate Events – “Then the unthinkable happened.”

The anti-vaccination movement was given a boost by actress Jenny McCarthy, who was convinced that vaccines were responsible for her son’s apparent autism. She was later joined in her crusade by her boyfriend, Jim Carrey. The movement had already been gaining some traction over false fears that thimerosal in vaccines (although mostly removed by 2002) was linked to autism. Such fears had already caused a drop in vaccination rates in the UK with subsequent measles outbreaks. Now these irrational fears were coming to the US, helped along by scientifically-illiterate pretty-people.

Due to the high-profile nonsense being spread by the antivaccinationists and the “mercury militia,” vaccination rates in the US have now dipped also (although not nearly as much as in the UK). Overall rates remain high, but there are pockets of low vaccination rates in communities where vaccine fears have spread. Such communities have dropped below the herd immunity level of vaccination and are susceptible to outbreaks.

The latest numbers from the CDC show that 131 cases have been reported in the US so far this year – extrapolating that is about 4 times the rate of the previous seven years. Of these cases 15 were hospitalized and no deaths were reported. Most importantly, 91% of the cases were in those who were unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status. Only 9% were in those known to be vaccinated. These statistics show two things – it is clearly the drop in vaccination rates that is resulting in the return of this disease; and because the vaccine is not 100% effective, even those who do get vaccinated are at increased risk of infection because of those who choose not to. We all depend upon and benefit from herd immunity – so the Jenny McCarthy brigade has caused harm to innocent bystanders.

The idiocy of antivaccinationists partly rests upon the modern luxury of never having had to live through the horrible epidemics of the past. I wonder how much the current generation will have to suffer through before they get it.

And I will say it again – if Jenny McCarthy is going to put her own “mommy instinct” before the consensus of scientific opinion, and exploit her dubious celebrity to champion anti-science, then she is going to have to take responsibility for her actions. The way I figure it, so far there are at least 68 measles cases on her tally sheet, and the number is growing.

34 responses so far

34 Responses to “Measles Outbreak – Thanks, Jenny”

  1. jonny_ehon 22 Aug 2008 at 8:57 am

    It’s almost as if the anti-vaccination idea is a disease that is slowly spreading, symptoms include measles, mumps, and other preventable diseases, sometimes leading to death.

  2. Oracon 22 Aug 2008 at 9:08 am

    One interesting aspect of this measles outbreak story is how antivaccinationists are spinning it as having to “choose” between the measles and autism–a false dichotomy, given that vaccines do not cause autism. One even went so far as to advocate no vaccines and sending in huge numbers of health care professionals to Asia and Africa to quarantine anyone with infectious disease to keep the disease “over there” from coming “over here.”

  3. weingon 22 Aug 2008 at 9:13 am

    You mean, given that vaccines do not cause autism.

  4. JustinWilsonon 22 Aug 2008 at 9:17 am

    This is a truly sad occurrence. I hope that someone learns from this. Maybe not the hardcore anti-vaccination crowd but perhaps some parent somewhere will read this and think twice. I’ll remain hopeful. Handley and the like are unsympathetically cold and perhaps this will be their undoing; I hope. Orac is correct, they are tossing up the false dichotomy fallacy. Shame on them.

  5. Oracon 22 Aug 2008 at 9:20 am

    You mean, given that vaccines do not cause autism.


    Of course. I meant “vaccines do not cause autism.”

    I hope Steve changes that from what my ham-fisted hands typed to what I actually meant. Otherwise, I can see some antivaccinationist somewhere quotemining me and saying, “Orac says that vaccines cause autism.”

  6. superdaveon 22 Aug 2008 at 9:27 am

    Orac, even vaccines did cause autism (WHICH THEY DONT!!!) it would still be a false dichotomy, given that the choice doesn’t doom you to either 100% of the time no matter what you believe about vaccines.

  7. Steven Novellaon 22 Aug 2008 at 9:29 am

    Orac – I edited your comment to what you say you meant to type. 🙂

    Of course they will try to spin this – they are ideologues, ideologies thrive on deception and misinformation. If they didn’t have to, they wouldn’t be ideologies. They would be science.

  8. DevilsAdvocateon 22 Aug 2008 at 9:29 am

    The best part of this entry is a newly coined term:

    “scientifically-illiterate pretty-people”



  9. superdaveon 22 Aug 2008 at 9:51 am

    man its gonna be a long day. Sleep = important

  10. Groovydocon 22 Aug 2008 at 10:38 am

    Even better, the SIPPS practice CBM (celebrity based medicine).

  11. Potter1000on 22 Aug 2008 at 12:08 pm

    It’s a little frightening how many of the vaccinated can still get these diseases. Of course I care about all kids (and adults), but it definitely sounds the alarm a little louder when it comes to thinking about my own kids and this issue.

  12. mat alfordon 22 Aug 2008 at 3:11 pm

    “I wonder how much the current generation will have to suffer through before they get it?”

    These statistics need to be “anecdotalised” for people to get the message. It would be great if the TV channels could track down some of the parents of the hospitalised children and interview them about the high fevers and the worry involved when your kid has a potentially fatal disease. These could be more effective advocates for vaccination than even Amanda Peet.

    Forgive me if this has happened already, but I’m not in the US.

  13. superdaveon 22 Aug 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Mat, I agree that your idea would work, but I wish it didn’t. I personally detest the news magazine shows that try to highlight a problem by picking one or two cases. It removes the issue from context and thus makes it impossible to gauge the real risk of whatever they are discussing. I cannot condone this idea even if it might be helpful.

  14. Jim Shaveron 22 Aug 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Mat and superdave:

    I was thinking it would be cool, hypothetically at least, if someone could email pictures of all 131 sick kids (in their sick conditions) to Jenny McCarthy, with an explanation. I mean, since she relies on her “Mommy instinct” to make such critical decisions as to campaign against childhood vaccinations, maybe such direct evidence of the consequences of the strategy she has so fervently embraced might hit home more than all that bothersome scientific medical evidence.

  15. SQFreakon 22 Aug 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Dr. Novella:

    While I agree entirely with the idea and purpose of your post, I disagree with one of your conclusions based solely on the data you provided: “it is clearly the drop in vaccination rates that is resulting in the return of this disease”
    There could be a new strain of the measles virus against which our vaccines cannot protect. There may be other possibilities which are more far-fetched. I do agree with you that it is most likely that the drop in vaccination rates is resulting in the return of the disease, but I do not believe that this can be concluded from simply one outbreak without further evidence about whether or not the current measles vaccine provides immunity to this strain.

  16. DevilsAdvocateon 22 Aug 2008 at 10:24 pm

    For what reason is she famous? I’m not being smart, I honestly don’t know. Is she an actress?

  17. daedalus2uon 22 Aug 2008 at 10:42 pm

    I saw this item on there being over a billion people who defecate in the open because they lack access to any kind of toilets.;_ylt=Agc70URCY8ZT.7IKC6jmyMuJOrgF

    There was some discussion that one of the best ways to get people to not defecate in the open was via community based shaming. Is this a technique that might work for the anti-vax crowd? I see it as essentially the same behavior, spreading disease because of ignorance.

    The people who lack access to toilets at least have an excuse.

  18. halincohon 22 Aug 2008 at 11:39 pm

    Very well said, Steve. To give an every day, in the trenches spin to your post, this year, 2008, I’ve had to spend more time debunking the antivaccination propaganda than in all my other 16 years combined. Proudly, I’ve discussed the points and counterpoints effectively enough to enable each and every parent to make the safe and sensible choice for their child. But, bottom line is, it IS their choice. And these discussions sometimes it feels like a true battle for the safety of these children. Sadly, they are! Scarily, but not surprisingly, Jenny McCarthy or Oprah have been mentioned each and every time. In the past, the phrase “the most powerful person on the planet” has controversially been applied to the President of the USA, but make no mistake about it, the most powerful person, at least in the USA, is Oprah. Because of this power, she’s the most dangerous propagator of woo on Earth. Without her, McCarthy has no voice.

  19. mat alfordon 23 Aug 2008 at 12:31 am

    superdave – I completely understand your reservations. Is it ethically responsible to use unscientific methods to get the message to the masses if you’ve got the science and statistics to back it up?

    I think you’ve gotta play the game. Present things in away that folks can talk about down the pub or whatever… Perhaps some of the “moral high ground” can be won back from the anti-vaccine brigade.

    As an analogy, I’m sure you’d find it hard to condemn ANY measure (removed from context or otherwise) that encouraged condom use in Africa…

  20. fireflyon 23 Aug 2008 at 12:38 am

    As far as i am aware DA, she has a career in television and film.

    Vaccines are so damn powerful, just let science take hold.

    P.s CBM, Groovydoc that was hilarious! Did you just coin that? I have been giggling all day at that.

  21. Groovydocon 23 Aug 2008 at 11:02 am


    Actually, I think I coined it a couple of days ago in an Amanda Peet Science Based Medicine blog, but if I subconsciously borrowed it from somewhere, apologies.

  22. Steven Novellaon 23 Aug 2008 at 3:07 pm

    SQ – I agree. That is why I said “clearly” rather than “it must be” or something else definitely. I meant this as most likely.

    But we have more than just the outbreak – we have the correlations of dramatically increased risk among those who are not vaccinated, and the outbreaks are occurring in communities with a low vaccination rate – and therefore a lack of herd immunity.

    Correlation does not prove causation – but these types of overlapping correlations can lead to a very confident conclusion about causation.

  23. mat alfordon 23 Aug 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Steve – Logic question. On the correlation/causation question, can we firm up our confidence in causation because the science predicted the outcome beforehand?

  24. theoon 23 Aug 2008 at 9:40 pm

    Here’s a case of criminal vaccine idiocy currently playing out down under (

    Authorities are still searching for a Sydney couple who are in hiding after refusing to have their newborn baby vaccinated against hepatitis B…

    The mother of the four-day-old baby boy has had the virus for several years and doctors say the child runs a high risk of contracting it unless he is immunised within days….

    The couple believes aluminium in the vaccine could cause the baby more damage than contracting hepatitis B.

  25. […] would like to take this opportunity to echo my co-blogger Steve’s sentiment and thank Jenny […]

  26. […] Jenny McCarthy Makes Me Sick Filed under: Posts — buttle @ 22:40 But only metaphorically. Not literally like about 68 measles victims. […]

  27. clgoodon 24 Aug 2008 at 2:47 am

    DA: McCarthy first became famous for taking off her clothes for Playboy. Then she had an extended stint on MTV as a VJ. That was years ago. Since then I think she has just been famous for sorta being famous once.

    I agree that publicly linking her with sick children would be a good idea. Lofty ideals are fine, but not during a PR war. Educate parents later. Convince them now. Lives are at stake.

  28. […] antivaccination cults is finally affecting public health. If you want details, go and read Orac, or Steve Novella, or some of my other writing. I’m too angry to deal with details […]

  29. dcnobleon 08 Sep 2008 at 2:01 am

    I guess I will be swimming against the tide on this one. But I do have a child with autism and like most other parents who have children with this disorder I am looking for answers to the questions–how did this happen and what can we do about it? So far we have spent in excess of $100, 000 on therapies for my son–he is only five (all private, BTW, as the local school district could offer nothing for a child with autism despite their legal mandate to do so). Most of that, as with Jenny McCarthy’s son, has been in the form of ABA therapy. Last year “Discovery” magazine ran a long, in-depth article on autism and it included this ominous quote, “Genetics loads the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger.” So what is it in our environment that is pulling the trigger?

    Consider the following abstract from an article that appeared in the Journal of Biomedical Science. Dr. Vijendra K. Singh, et al. University of Utah.

    Autoimmunity to the central nervous system (CNS), especially to myelin basic protein (MBP), may play a causal role in autism, a
    neurodevelopmental disorder. Because many autistic children harbor elevated levels of measles antibodies, we conducted a serological study of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and MBP autoantibodies. Using serum samples of 125 autistic children and 92 control children, antibodies were assayed by ELISA or immunoblotting methods. ELISA analysis showed a significant increase in the level of MMR antibodies in autistic children. Immunoblotting analysis revealed the presence of an unusual MMR antibody in 75 of 125 (60%) autistic sera but not in control sera. This antibody specifically detected a protein of 73-75 kD of MMR. This protein band, as analyzed with monoclonal antibodies, was immunopositive for measles hemagglutinin (HA) protein but not for
    measles nucleoprotein and rubella or mumps viral proteins. Thus the MMR antibody in autistic sera detected measles HA protein, which is unique to the measles subunit of the vaccine. Furthermore, over 90% of MMR antibody-positive autistic sera were also positive for MBP autoantibodies, suggesting a strong association between MMR and CNS autoimmunity in autism. Stemming from this evidence, we suggest that an inappropriate antibody response to MMR, specifically the measles component thereof, might be related to pathogenesis of autism.

    So now perhaps you might understand my reluctance to administer a second MMR shot to my son.

    Or not.

  30. […] The MMR-autism hypothesis was dead before this study was published, but this is yet more evidence against this notion. Yet the fears have been stoked, and the anti-vaccine ideologues continue their campaign to spread vaccine-preventable diseases. […]

  31. […] last few weeks there have been a slew of postings and releases (to feature only a couple) regarding the rise of deadly measles and other once fully […]

  32. […] is concern over this damage (which is already underway in the form of an increase in vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as the use of many dangerous quack treatments like chelation) that motivates me and other […]

  33. […] to someone dumb enough to take medical advice from a stripper. Or maybe it’s the resulting outbreak of measles, a disease previously eradicated from the first world but which is causing even the children of […]

  34. […] After the MMR scare in the UK sparked by the now-discredited research of Andrew Wakefield, vaccinations rates dipped and as a result there was a resurgence of measles. Now in the US McCarthy is trying hard to replicate that effect. There are now pockets of low vaccination rates in communities where McCarthy’s scare tactics have had an effect. As a result there has been a resurgence of measles outbreaks. […]

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