Facts and Misconceptions in a Near-Hysterical Media Environment
By Sharyl Attkisson, Guest Contributor
You probably know that the U.S. has broken the record for number of measles cases in recent years. You also likely know that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says “high coverage” with measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is the most effective way to limit the spread of measles.
Here are some other facts CDC released this week about the 2019 outbreak:
- 67% of cases are in New York City and New York state.
- All of the original sources of infection are foreign countries.
- The most number of cases came in from the Philippines, followed by Ukraine.
- So far, there are no reports of measles-related brain damage or death, which are very rare.
Read the CDC’s latest on the 2019 U.S. measles outbreak here.
Along with the facts, a great deal of propaganda and misreporting are stoking near-hysteria among some.
Fact check and sourcing on 10 statements you may have heard about the 2019 U.S. measles outbreak
1. “Measles was eradicated in the U.S., but now it’s back.”
False, according to CDC.
“Eradicated” is a term CDC reserves for elimination of a disease worldwide, such as smallpox. Measles was declared “eliminated” from the U.S. in 2000.
2. “Until now, measles hasn’t been seen in the U.S. since 2000 when CDC declared the disease ‘eliminated’.”
False, according to CDC.
There have been measles outbreaks every year in the U.S. since CDC declared it “eliminated” in 2000. According to CDC, “eliminated” doesn’t mean no cases occur; it means that all cases originate from sources outside of the U.S.
Each year, including in 2019, transmission of measles has been sourced exclusively to travelers or visitors who bring in the disease from outside of the U.S., according to CDC.
In 2018, 82 people brought measles to the U.S. from other countries. CDC states, that’s “the greated number of imported cases since measles was eliminated from the U.S. in 2000.”
Also, according to CDC: many U.S. measles cases in 2014 were sourced to the Philippines.
In 2011, most of the measles cases brought into the U.S. came from France.
3. “The U.S. measles outbreak is exclusively due to unvaccinated people.”
False, according to CDC.
Not all of the measles patients and carriers are unvaccinated people; some were fully or partly vaccinated.
In 2019, CDC says 71% of infected patients in the U.S. were known to be unvaccinated.
Twenty-nine per cent (29%), or about one in three, were vaccinated or had unknown/unproven status.
4. “Vaccinated people don’t get or spread measles.”
False, according to CDC.
CDC says measles can sometimes be spread by vaccinated children and adults. This is neither rare nor new.
For example, in 1983 and 1984, CDC says measles was transmitted within a U.S. school “with a documented immunization level of 100%.”
In 1984, there was a measles outbreak in a U.S. high school with a documented vaccination level of 98%. Seventy per cent (70%) of the cases were among those who had measles vaccination and were “therefore considered vaccine failures.”
Measles outbreaks in 1989 among vaccinated school-aged children in the U.S. prompted CDC to recommend a second dose of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine for children.
Even so, a 2017 outbreak of measles among soldiers in Israel involved a primarly patient who had received three doses of measles vaccine; the eight additional patients had received at least two doses.
Outbreaks of mumps in the U.S. have also been traced to many previously-vaccinated patients.
For example, in 2006 the CDC noted mumps outbreaks in people “with high coverage of two doses of MMR vaccine,” resulting in 6,584 cases.
In 2017, after rising incidence of mumps among vaccinated people in the U.S., the government began looking at recommending a third MMR shot for some in certain mumps outbreak situations.*
Though it’s not uncommon for vaccinated people to get and spread a disease, experts say the risk is higher for unvaccinated people.
When asked about the spread of disease by and among vaccinated patients, CDC said the following:
Although vaccination produces lower antibody levels than natural disease, both serologic and epidemiologic evidence indicate that the vaccine [MMR measles component] induces long-term — probably lifelong — immunity, in most persons.
–Centers for Disease Control
*A 2016 study suggested the third dose approach was not effective.
5. “Everyone should get their measles shot” or “Everyone should get vaccinated.”
False, according to CDC.
CDC recently recommended that children should not get MMR vaccine if they have “a parent, brother, or sister with a history of immune system problems.”
Each vaccine has its own set of caveats for those who should not receive it.
6. “There are no side effects from measles vaccine.”
False, according to CDC and the Food and Drug Administration.
Manufacturer-acknowledged adverse reactions from MMR vaccine are listed beginning on page 6 here.
Though not mentioned on the CDC page about safety risks, the risks of MMR vaccine include brain damage (encephalopathy). They also include a “usually fatal brain disorder” when severely-compromised individuals who should be vaccinated are mistakenly given MMR vaccine.
All medicine has side effects, but CDC considers the risk of measles vaccine (and any approved vaccine) to be lower than the risk of the disease it purports to prevent.
Sometimes that calculus has proven to change or be incorrect. The government has sometimes removed previously-approved vaccines from the market for safety reasons.
This happened with oral polio vaccine, which was long given to children even though it (rarely) transmitted polio, and a safer injectable version was available. CDC removed oral polio vaccine from the U.S. market in 2000.
In 1999, the government also removed a rotavirus (diarrhea) vaccine from the U.S. market due to safety risks in children.
CDC acknowledges that vaccines that are considered safe for the general population are dangerous for a minority of children.
To date, the little-known “vaccine court” has paid more than $4 billion in vaccine injury damages.
7. “Measles is a highly dangerous disease for many in the U.S.” and “The measles (MMR) vaccine is a highly dangerous vaccine for many.”
Both false, according to various experts.
While measles can be miserable and— rarely– dangerous or deadly for the immune-suppressed or chronically ill, it was once treated as a routine childhood rite of passage in the U.S. and considered by scientists to be a “mild disease.”
Most people who catch measles in the U.S. will emerge with no longlasting effects and will have a lifelong immunity, according to scientists.
There has been one measles-related death in the U.S. in the past decade, according to CDC.
The death was that of a woman in Washington state who died in 2015. CDC did not have other details. News reports indicate the patient may have been vaccinated and had no obvious symptoms of measles, but was tested after she passed away. She “died of pneumonia, had other health conditions and was taking medications that suppressed her immune system,” said state health officials.
There have been three measles-related deaths in the U.S. since 2000. Two of them were in patients with serious underlying health conditions prior to the measles infection, according to health officials.
One of them was a 13-year old who had recently had a bone marrow transplant for chronic granulomatous disease. According to CDC, the patient “received a bone marrow transplant in October 2002, and died in January 2003. Measles was confirmed [after death] by a positive serologic test for measles IgM and isolation of measles virus from a brain biopsy.”
A second 2003 measles-related death happened to a 75 year old international traveler who was infected in Israel and got “measles pneumonitis and encephalopathy. Measles was confirmed by reverse transciptase-polymerase chain reaction from nasopharyngeal swab and urine,” according to CDC.
On the other hand, there have been 483 measles vaccine injury and death claims paid by the U.S. government since 1988.*
However, the seemingly larger number of serious vaccine injuries in the U.S. in of itself doesn’t imply the MMR vaccine is more dangerous than measles. That’s because millions more people get the vaccine than get measles in the U.S.
Obviously, scientists say, if fewer people were to be vaccinated, there would be an increase in serious complications from measles, and there would be fewer vaccine injuries.
*Because federal vaccine court is little known and limited, the actual number of vaccine injuries is believed to be much higher than the number administered in the court, according to vaccine court officials.
8. “Everyone needs to get vaccinated or preventable, deadly diseases will make a comeback.”
Mixed verdict, according to CDC and other scientists.
CDC agrees that if fewer people vaccinate, it will lead to greater spread of infectious diseases.
However, scientists such as former director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Dr. Bernadine Healy, say the idea of “all vaccines” or “no vaccines” is a false choice.
They suggest there’s a middle ground that’s safer for all: learn which children are most susceptible to serious vaccine side effects, develop different vaccination recommendations for them, and safely vaccinate the rest.
Government medical experts have already identified and acknowledged several pre-existing factors that make children susceptible to vaccine injury including: family history of immune issues, mitochondrial disorder and Tuberous Sclerosis.
9. “The myth that vaccines cause autism originated with a fraudulent study in the U.K. that was debunked in 2010.”
True or False, depending on which government officials and records are consulted.
There’s a well-established propaganda campaign to “close the door” on the vaccine-autism link and state “the science is settled,” by claiming the theory has a single origin that’s been “debunked.”*
However, it’s false to claim that the vaccine-autism link began or ended with the referenced study.
In fact, the ongoing controversy over vaccines and autism is being fueled by U.S. government resources and experts.
Six examples outlined below:
- The government’s own pro-vaccine world-renowned medical expert recently signed an affidavit stating that science has proven vaccines can cause autism, after all, in “exceptional” cases. He claims when he told the government, they fired him as an expert witness and misrepresented his expert opinion in court. Last fall, vaccine safety advocates filed a complaint over this alleged government misrepresentation and coverup with the Department of Justice. There’s been no public follow up.
- The former head of NIH, Dr. Bernadine Healy, stated that the vaccine-autism link had not been “debunked,” despite claims otherwise.
- The government agreed vaccines triggered autism in a landmark case and paid damages to the family but had the case sealed, meaning other parents wouldn’t know. However, word of the case ulitmately leaked out. Much of the original national news reporting has been removed from the Internet, but there are a few surviving print articles and related videos.
- The government has paid numerous injury cases of children who became autistic after their vaccinations, as long as the injuries are described as “encephalopathy” (brain damage) rather than “autism.”
- The CDC head of immunization safety has acknolwedged vaccines may rarely trigger autism in susceptible children.
- Many peer reviewed, published studies suggest a link between vaccines and autism.
*You can read both sides of the UK study scandal below:
Meantime, government scientists held out as debunking the vaccine-autism link have also been the subject of controversy.
10. “It’s ‘anti-vaccine’ to raise or address vaccine safety issues.”
Plenty of pro-vaccine or neutral scientists, reporters and advocates examine vaccine safety. As a result of their legitimate investigation, many are falsely labeled “anti-vaxxers” or “anti-vaccine” by a well-funded propaganda campaign that seeks to prevent discussion of vaccine safety issues in the news, on the Internet or on social media.
Known propagandists and outlets they use include:
- The political smear group Media Matters and its affiliates
- Wikipedia and Snopes
- Blogs that often using titles with “science” or “skeptics” in them such as: “Science Based Medicine,” “Science Blogs,” “Respectful Insolence”/Orac,” “Vaxopedia,” and “LeftBrainRightBrain.”
- The LA Times/Michael Hiltzik, Mother Jones/Kevin Drum, Vanity Fair, Salon, Seth Mnookin, Forbes, Vox, Every Child by Two, Dr. Peter Hotez, and the discredited vaccine industry insider Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
In fact, it can be argued that investigating vaccine safety issues is “pro-vaccine,” since it could prompt safety advances that would build public confidence in a robust government-backed vaccine program.