Tag: measles myths

The Timeline of the Measles Epidemic in Samoa

The timeline of the measles epidemic in Samoa seems fairly easy to understand.

Vaccination rates went down, the people in Samoa got caught up in the rise in measles cases and outbreaks happening all over the world, and they soon had a measles epidemic on their hands, with lots of kids dying.

In an outbreak situation, everyone who is not immune would need to get two doses of a measles containing vaccine and that's why you need 215,000 doses of measles vaccine... And despite what Sherri Tenpenny might think, everyone on Samoa is still not vaccinated yet.
In an outbreak situation, everyone who is not immune would need to get two doses of a measles containing vaccine and that’s why you need 215,000 doses of measles vaccine… And despite what Sherri Tenpenny might think, everyone on Samoa is still not vaccinated yet.

Unfortunately, anti-vaccine folks continue to exploit the tragedy, trying to make it sound like vaccines actually caused the epidemic.

“The Samoa Measles Appeal is being launched by the Government of Samoa to receive financial assistance from partners to support national efforts to contain the outbreak, to effectively treat people who contracted measles, and to achieve herd immunity for long term protection of the population.”

National Measles Response and Recovery Appeal

They are even making up conspiracy theories about the money the Government of Samoa is requesting to help control the epidemic and prevent future outbreaks.

The Timeline of the Measles Epidemic in Samoa

Maybe what is happening in Samoa isn’t so easy to understand…

Let’s give it a try!

To truly understand what is happening in Samoa, you have to go back a little further than when the epidemic started.

In fact, we have to go all of the way back to July 2018, when two young children died very shortly after getting their routine MMR vaccines. Although they died because of a mixup between the vaccine diluent and a powerful anesthetic, the tragic deaths led to the suspension of all vaccinations in the country.

Taylor Winterstein was planning an anti-vax workshop in Samoa in June.
Taylor Winterstein was planning an anti-vax workshop in Samoa in June.

And while the suspension was eventually reversed, they continued to hold MMR vaccinations for another nine months, until April 15, 2019.

Bobby Kennedy actually wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of Samoa on November 19th making every effort to blame the epidemic on a defective MMR vaccine, mutant measles strains, or vaccine strain measles.
Bobby Kennedy actually wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of Samoa on November 19th making every effort to blame the epidemic on a defective MMR vaccine, mutant measles strains, or vaccine strain measles.

Combine that with the efforts of anti-vax folks and it is easy to see how immunization rates in Samoa eventually tumbled to a low of just 30%!

What happened next?

On October 9, we got the first report of a measles case in Samoa and that it was related to a someone who visited from New Zealand for a conference at the end of August.

But by the time of that first report, at least 86 people had already been tested for suspected measles!

“Of the 28 specimens of suspected measles cases sent to Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory Melbourne, Australia on the 30th Sept 2019, twelve (12) results have been received over the week end. Of these twelve there were four confirmed cases; one adult and three children. All have been treated and discharged with no complications.

On the 2nd of October 2019, we sent another 8 specimens of suspected measles cases. Current results received this afternoon of these eight specimens sent revealed three new confirmed cases. Of these three positive cases, two were children under five years and 1 was an adult of 22 years old. All have been treated and discharged.

A total of seven confirmed cases have been reported to date. In anticipation, we now confirm a Measles Epidemic.”

Ministry of Health Press Release 1 – Measles Epidemic (October 16)

With that many cases already, it should be obvious that the measles outbreak in Samoa started in late September. That explains why UNICEF had begun to send measles vaccines and vitamin A to Samoa in early October.

Measles cases in Samoa began in September, which is why UNICEF began sending vaccines in October.
Wait. If the outbreak is caused by the vaccine strain (A genotype), why are folks testing positive for the D8 strain?

And that should put to rest the myth that this is some kind of unnatural, vaccine induced outbreak that got started because of the UNICEF vaccines.

“The deceased child of one year two months was admitted on the 8th October 2019 with a history of febrile convulsions, cough and skin rash typical of measles associated with severe dehydration. Verification of immunization status for this child revealed that he has not been vaccinated against measles.”

Ministry of Health Press Release 1 – Measles Epidemic

Tragically, we very soon saw the first measles death (October 15) in Samoa, an unvaccinated toddler. With continued cases, they soon declared a measles epidemic on October 16.

With continued cases and deaths, the Government of Samoa closed all preschools and daycare centers on October 31.

On November 8, they lowered the age to get the first dose MMR in Samoa to 6 months.

It wasn’t long before the Government of Samoa declared a full fledged state of emergency (November 15), closing schools, restricting children from gathering in public, and making vaccination mandatory.

“The outbreaks in Samoa and Tonga are caused by the D8 strain (genotype) of measles virus. Measles vaccine coverage varies in Pacific island countries and areas, ranging from 31% in Samoa to 99% in the Cook Islands, Nauru and Niue.”

Measles Outbreak in the Pacific – Situation Report No 1, 22 November, 2019

It was at this time that more help came from New Zealand, 12 nurses to help administer vaccines. Australia also soon sent a team of 34 doctors and nurses to help at Samoa’s main hospital in the capital Apia.

“Samoa’s government is warning anyone trying to discourage people from getting measles vaccinations to stop it.”

Measles Update: Samoa warns against anti-vaxxers; issues new emergency orders

And now, although there have been some roadblocks put up by anti-vaxxers both in and out of Samoa, with lots of help, they are hopefully getting their epidemic under control.

“As of December 6th, 2019, approximately 89% of all eligible people in Samoa have been vaccinated against measles.”

National Emergency Operation Centre: Update on the measles outbreak (Press Release 21) December 7, 2019

In fact, many people were vaccinated when the Government of Samoa shut down on December 5th and 6th.

“On 03/12, the Government announced that a nationwide mass vaccination will take place on Thursday and Friday (05 + 06/12) and all public services (excluding power and water, police, and health services) as well as the private sector (with few exceptions) will be shut down from 7 am – 5 pm to enforce the mass vaccination programme. Citizens were asked to stay at their residences and await the visit of mobile vaccination teams. There are 128 teams carrying out the mass vaccination campaign during this period.”

National Measles Response and Recovery Appeal, 6 December 2019

During the door to door mass vaccination campaign, families were told to stay home and hang red flags outside their homes if they needed to be vaccinated.

Photo courtesy of the Government of Samoa.
Photo courtesy of the Government of Samoa.

Amazingly, with all of the cases and deaths, some folks resisted and didn’t want to be vaccinated and protected.

Still wondering why some parents are scared and don't want their kids vaccinated?
Still wondering why some parents are scared and don’t want their kids vaccinated?

They turned the vaccination teams away!

So much for the idea of forced vaccination, right?

There have been 70 deaths in the measles epidemic in Samoa.
The latest update from Samoa – December 9th.

Most have gotten vaccinated and protected though.

They understand that while traditional healers might still be popular in Samoa, they can not be used for life-threatening diseases such as measles.

In addition to overloading kids with vitamin C, a traditional healer working with Jim Meehan was arrested for making many claims that scared people away from getting vaccinated and protected.
In addition to overloading kids with vitamin C, a traditional healer working with Jim Meehan was arrested on December 6 for making many claims that scared people away from getting vaccinated and protected.

So what’s next?

On Nov 24, the case count jumped from 1,797 to 2,194, although they only reported 144 new cases. Were they catching up from the previous days?

While it isn’t over yet, hopefully we are in the ending stages of their epidemic, as many people have now been vaccinated and protected with at least one dose of a measles containing vaccine.

Hopefully everyone has learned a big lesson and this epidemic will serve as a warning to everyone to vaccinate and protect their kids.

Samoan children should have been vaccinated and protected.
Samoan children should have been vaccinated and protected.

And to not listen to anti-vax folks, especially those who would try and exploit this kind of epidemic to push their propaganda.

More on the Measles Epidemic in Samoa

Misinformation About Measles Outbreaks in Texas

Like everywhere else, measles has been on the rise in Texas. And like everywhere else, we have also seen a rise in misinformation about measles and measles outbreaks in Texas.

Why do these folks push misinformation about measles?
Why do these folks push misinformation about measles? #JustAsking

Only three were unvaccinated? Is that true?

Misinformation About Measles Outbreaks in Texas

Actually, when you look at the official statistics, you find that there were only three cases that were known to be fully vaccinated!

Only three of the cases were known to be fully vaccinated and protected against measles!
Only three of the cases were known to be fully vaccinated!

While it is true that only three were known to be fully unvaccinated, there are another five people with unknown status who might also be fully unvaccinated.

And then there are those who are partially vaccinated, with just one dose of MMR. As most folks know, two doses of MMR provide the best protection against measles. Six more of the cases are known to have had just one dose of MMR and another four had an unknown number of doses, so could have been partially vaccinated.

And again, there are the five with unknown status. While it is possible that they were fully vaccinated, or had one dose, it is also very likely that they were unvaccinated.

What can we say for sure?

The claim that “Only THREE out of the twenty-one cases were unvaccinated individuals” in the Texas measles outbreaks isn’t true.

You could just as easily say that “Only THREE out of the twenty-one cases were known to be fully vaccinated individuals.” And at least that statement would be truthful, as it includes the caveat that you are only talking about those with known immunization status…

Were any of the cases in children attending school with an exemption?

At least nine of the cases were in children, but there haven’t been any media reports of outbreaks or exposures in schools, so I am guessing not.

That’s lucky!

Some schools in Texas have very high rates of vaccine exemptions and a case of measles could lead to a big outbreak.

More on the Measles Outbreaks in Texas

The Myth That Measles Never Left

Measles cases are on the rise. Where? Pretty much everywhere. But some folks are still pushing the myth that measles never left.

The highest number of measles cases in over 25 years? Don't call it a comeback?
Don’t call it a comeback? Cases in the US average 283 cases per year over the past 12 years (if you don’t skip 2019…)

It is easy to see that measles myth, like most AV myths, isn’t true.

The Myth That Measles Never Left

In the pre-vaccine era, everyone would get measles.

That translates into about 500,000 reported cases each year. Technically, it was likely closer to about 4 million cases in the United States each year, but either way, we know that lots of people got measles.

Then we got a measles vaccine and not surprisingly, cases of measles dropped. Except for a small uptick from 1989 to 1991, we were on our way to eliminating measles.

And we did, in 2000, when the endemic spread of measles was eliminated in the United States. From then on, all measles cases were imported.

In 2004, we had an historic low of just 37 measles cases in the United States!

Will we ever have fewer than 37 cases in a year?
Will we ever have fewer than 37 cases in a year?

And from 2000 to 2012, we averaged just 87 measles cases each year, which is far below the US average of 283 cases we are now seeing.

No, measles never completely left. It was not eradicated.

But it is certainly making a comeback and soaring to levels that we haven’t seen since 1992!

Just think about it… We had 37 cases of measles in 2004 and this year, we often had 37 cases in a single week!

Get vaccinated and protected so that you don’t get caught up in the next outbreak.

More on Measles Cases

Did Pediatricians Ever Encourage Parents to Have Measles Parties?

While the idea of chickenpox and measles parties now seems ridiculous to most people, in the pre-vaccine era, it might not have been so strange. Since getting these diseases was inevitable, it might make some sense to try and control when your kids got sick. Did did pediatricians actually encourage parents to have measles parties?

Did Pediatricians Ever Encourage Parents to Have Measles Parties?

Some folks think they have evidence that they did!

This is not evidence for measles parties...
This is not evidence for measles parties…

Wait, did they really have measles?

As most folks know, German measles is another name for rubella or 3-day measles.
As most folks know, German measles is another name for rubella or 3-day measles.

Not exactly…

These kids had German measles – better known as rubella. Of course, that is not the same thing as measles or rubeola.

Measles vs Rubella

Why do we worry about rubella? Unlike measles, it’s not because it can make kids very sick, but rather because if a pregnant woman gets rubella, then it can be devastating for their baby.

The idea for rubella parties started in the UK in the 1950s.
The idea for rubella parties started in the UK in the 1950s.

That’s why some folks tried to get rubella when they were kids, well before they reached the age when they could become pregnant.

How did that strategy work out?

Many articles advocating for rubella parties (German measles) appeared in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Of course, those rubella parties didn’t prevent the rubella epidemics that came in 1964-65 and caused 12.5 million rubella virus infections and “resulted in 11,250 therapeutic or spontaneous abortions, 2,100 neonatal deaths, and 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome.”

In addition to spreading rubella to pregnant women, at these parties, younger children could get exposed to other diseases that are more serious, like measles.
In addition to spreading rubella to pregnant women, at these parties, younger children could get exposed to other diseases that are more serious, like measles.

It was the rubella vaccine that was developed in 1969 that helped control and eventually eliminate rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in the United States. And eliminated all of the risks of the measles parties that some folks used to have.

More on Measles Parties