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Measles vaccination is not protecting against measles

Opinion Piece

The two areas with highest measles outbreak have MMR vaccination rates of 97 percent.* Yes, you read it right, more than that 95 percent figure our Ministry of Health advisers keep telling us would ensure “herd immunity”!

The lowest vaccinated regions have the lowest measles rates, or indeed zero cases as is the case in Gisborne.**

Next let’s look at the official data for the Canterbury outbreak, which is now officially over.** Cumulative total for that outbreak was 49! You may be surprised as we were led to believe it was a big outbreak. This information obtained under the OIA may shed some light:

Dr Shane Reti to the Associated Health Minister (27 Aug 2019): “How many samples tested at the National Measles Laboratory in Christchurch, if any, identified the vaccine strain of the measles virus?”

Hon Julie Anne Genter replied: “61 samples tested between 1 January 2019 and 19 July 2019 detected the vaccine strain of the measles virus and were subsequently identified as not being cases of measles.”

Please do read that statement again and see that based on the official data, the majority of measles cases were due to measles vaccine, not wild measles. I let you draw your own conclusions!

Also, have you noticed that in all announcements those older than 50 are told that they don’t need MMR vaccine? Ever wondered why? They are immune due to natural exposure to measles in childhood (remember measles parties) and any such immunised-for-life mother was able to pass that immunity to her baby during pregnancy and via breastfeeding.

So, prior to the measles vaccines, measles was a childhood disease which parents knew how to deal with (cod liver oil — VitA — plenty of fluid, sleep in a dark room, rest at home) and other parents would welcome their children’s exposure and thus-acquired life-time immunity. Measles wasn’t even an issue for a healthy breast-fed child.

All problems arose after measles vaccination started and as a result many people started to get measles at an age-inappropriate time. Also, as mothers no longer had immunity, they couldn’t pass it to their babies. And as we see, based on our own official data, the measles vaccine doesn’t offer protection for our children and there is a mass, hyped panic re measles!

Also, your readers may like to know that if someone is vaccinated with MMR and develops measles in the following two weeks, their status is recorded as “unvaccinated”!! This artificially and misleadingly increases the number of “unvaccinated” cases and reduces the number who have been vaccinated and develop measles.

Any nurse in Auckland hospitals could tell you that more than half of those turning up with measles are vaccinated! A majority of those categorised as “Unknown” are indeed vaccinated against measles but don’t have their vaccination records, while their parents testify that they had vaccinated their kids according to the NZ schedule.

Pacific Islanders, who have one of the highest vaccination rates in NZ, also have the highest rate of measles. The higher rate of hospitalisation (which is defined as more than three hours in hospital) is partly due to quarantine cases where the patient can’t be sent home for isolation purposes (and not due to the severity of their case).

I find the lack of advice for treatment of this childhood disease from public health officials extremely disconcerting. And as you see, blaming outbreaks on the unvaccinated is not borne by official data. Indeed, if we are truly concerned by measles outbreaks we would halt MMR vaccine immediately, as data shows those populations with a higher rate of MMR are more likely to develop measles.

* Obtained under OIA

** https://surv.esr.cri.nz/surveillance/WeeklyMeaslesRpt.php?we_objectID=5032

Theo Brandt, Communications manager for The Immunisation Advisory Centre, University of Auckland responds.New Zealand is experiencing a serious outbreak of measles, the worst we’ve seen in decades. Many people, particularly infants too young to be fully immunised, have suffered severe complications requiring intensive hospital treatment. This is not a disease that can always be managed by a healthy lifestyle, cod liver oil or rest.

Misconceptions are being shared across social media in New Zealand about our MMR immunisation coverage, the seriousness of measles and the effectiveness of the MMR vaccine.

1. Some people claim that data from the Ministry of Health and the National Immunisation Register (NIR) show high MMR coverage across the country. This incorrect claim is based on misuse of data. The data show that of children offered MMR vaccination, 97 percent completed and 3 percent declined. Population coverage cannot be calculated from these two groups alone. This calculation does not include many other children who were eligible but did not complete or decline vaccination. Omitting this group from the calculation creates a false impression of overinflated coverage. Inferring failure of population protection made from these claims is incorrect.

New Zealand has a measles outbreak because our immunisation coverage is sub-optimal. Historically it was particularly low, leaving many adolescents and midlife adults now at risk, often unaware they are not protected. If all eligible people had two doses of MMR, measles could not spread so easily. This is well demonstrated in other countries using the same vaccine, where rates of vaccine coverage of 95 percent or greater shows sustained prevention of the spread of measles.

2. An uncommon but known side effect of the MMR vaccine is the occurrence of a mild rash and fever. This is caused by the immune system’s response to the measles or rubella component of the vaccine. People with this rash have a reaction to the vaccine strain, not transmissible measles. They cannot pass on measles to anyone and are correctly excluded as measles cases.

3. It is true that some people with measles have had two doses of the MMR vaccine (currently 75 of the 1275 cases in New Zealand). This is because no vaccine is 100 percent effective. When tens of thousands of people are vaccinated, a small number of these will still contract the disease. If 100 vaccinated people were all exposed to measles, we would expect 1 or 2 to get the disease. If 100 unvaccinated people were exposed to the disease, then about 90 of them would get measles.

4. Mothers immunised against measles do pass on some protection to their unborn child. This protection doesn’t last more than a few months.

Measles is not a disease that can be easily treated. The complications from measles can be managed, but as mentioned, there are never any guarantees that we will successfully manage all cases, even in well-nourished, breast-fed children and with the most advanced heathcare. It is a credit to the NZ health services that to date no one has died in this outbreak, despite much severe illness.

Although we can’t treat measles, we can prevent it. Since 2000, 21.1 million deaths have been prevented by the measles vaccine (World Health Organisation data). The WHO cautions against “Vaccine misinformation” which it indicates “has the potential to impact public health and is as contagious and dangerous as the diseases it helps spread”.

-Written with Dr Nikki Turner and Donna Watson of The Immunisation Advisory Centre.

See also Gisborne Herald editorial response to criticisms regarding the publication of Simin Williams' column.

Simin Williams

  1. Sheralyn says:

    Why have the rest of the comments suddenly disappeared that followed this opinion piece? They were there yesterday!

    Footnote from Ed: Because we’ve just switched to a new website. We learned comment trails weren’t coming through to the new site earlier this week, and our software supplier is looking into how they can be imported.

  2. Kat says:

    I’m really disappointed Gisborne Herald that you are letting this kind of content be published. The data Ms. Williams is quoting is incorrect or taken out of context. Her opinion disguised as ‘information’ could be deadly. Yes, everyone is entitled to an opinion but that doesn’t mean you need to provide a platform for it.