Anti-vaccination ads in Times Square

I found out here that CBS are showing anti-vaccination ads in Times Square and read here how to complain about it. I have since signed the petition, tweeted and emailed. It was easy and since the ads are still running, I urge you to do the same.

My email (which I invite you to plagiarise) was as follows:

I have serious concerns over the decision to show the ad for Mercola and NVIC on CBS Outdoor’s JumboTron on 42nd street.

I am a graduate in Biology from the United Kingdom and studied Epidemiology as part of my course. I believe the importance of vaccination cannot be overstated.

Vaccination is one of the biggest breakthroughs in modern medicine and mass vaccination has saved millions of lives. If the percentage of uptake of vaccines drops below a certain level, diseases that were once rare can spread easily through the population once more. For this reason, I believe ads such as this one are a threat to public health.

I am also a mother of two young children. I understand the urge to protect your child from anything and that it ‘feels wrong’ to willingly inject a healthy baby with something Mercola and NVIC believe to be unsafe (even in some cases ‘deadly’). Mercola and NVIC tap into that natural maternal feeling but give a misleading, mistaken and one-sided account. One of the reasons it feels safe not to vaccinate is that we are lucky enough to live in a society with low infant mortality – largely because of vaccination. We have forgotten the damage that can be done by diseases such as measles. We barely know what diphtheria is – but if we could ask our grandparents it would be a different story.

I have seen first hand how effective anti-vaccination campaigns can be. My own children were vaccinated in the time shortly after the huge UK media interest in Andrew Wakefield’s paper which linked MMR vaccination to autism. Vaccination rates had dropped sharply at this time, leading to a greatly increased incidence of measles and mumps, some serious illness and death. The NHS have had to spend lots of time and money educating people on the safety and importance of vaccination in an attempt to keep the rates up and hence control the prevalence of these diseases.

Although Wakefield’s theories have since been discredited and even declared fraudulent, the fear among the general public persists. There has not been anywhere near as much media interest in Wakefield’s downfall as there was in his original paper. Mercola and NVIC continue to repeat his disproven theories. The information on their websites is on the whole misleading and in many cases, simply wrong.

CBS should not be giving them a platform.

4 responses to “Anti-vaccination ads in Times Square

  1. I’m a graduate in Biology also, and a parent of two unvaccinated children.
    you say that we have a society with low infant mortality – largely because of vaccination,
    this is patent nonsense, even those pro vac acknowledge that there was a massive drop in infant mortality before vaccines were even introduced due to improvements in living conditions ie sanitation, better diet, better housing, better medicines etc
    you say vaccination rates have dropped sharply , leading to a greatly increased incidence of measles and mumps, serious illness and death.
    but where’s the evidence for this?
    vaccinations have dropped sharply, in London the MMR rate is less than 50%, ie millions of children are unvaccinated, but where are all the deaths?
    the hpa state that since 1992, there has only been two deaths from acute measles, one was a 13 years old male who had an underlying lung condition and was taking immunosuppressive drugs the other in 2008 was a child with congenital immunodeficiency.
    So in almost twenty years despite millions of parents not giving MMR, there has been no deaths in non immunocompromised children, it’s time to stop scaremongering, and face the fact that in healthy, well nourished children, vaccinations are of no benefit at all.

  2. Tony – thank you for your comment. I am new to blogging and it is nice to get some attention.

    You raise some interesting points:

    I do not claim that vaccination was solely responsible for the decline in infant mortality but you are mistaken if you do not agree that has played a major role. This is an interesting paper with regard to infant mortality and vaccination in the developing world:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7605698

    I think it is worrying that you have come out of a degree course in Biology without a proper understanding of the importance of vaccination. I agree that it is fairly safe not to vaccinate your own children (since I assume you live in a country with mass vaccination programmes and therefore ‘herd immunity’). It is when we have anti-vaccination campaigns and hysteria like that surrounding the recent MMR scare that we start to have a problem.

    If the MMR rate in London is 50% as you state then this is very worrying. It is however probably not the whole story. The NHS does not recommend single measles, mumps or rubella vaccines because there is no evidence to support the use of single vaccines or to suggest that they are ‘safer’ than MMR (http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/mmr/pages/faqs.aspx#MMRquestion). There are, however plenty of clinics in London administering separate vaccines. Some of them (such as this one http://www.surreygp.com/singlemmr_surreygpkent.html?gclid=CN2Jjrnqm6gCFQEZ4QoddRYTHQ) even say that although the single MMR vaccine is safe ‘many parents, despite reassurance, remain unconvinced’ and that it is better to have single vaccines than none at all.

    It is also worth bearing in mind that a large proportion of the population of London are not children and although I do not have data to hand, I would argue that the majority of Londoners have immunity to measles, mumps and rubella either through vaccination (whether MMR or single vaccines such as those administered in the past) or through exposure to the diseases themselves.

    In summary, saying the rate of uptake of a particular vaccine during a specific period is below 50% is not the same as saying that only 50% of the population has immunity.

    As a side note on the subject of herd immunity, it is worth pointing out that when we were children, only girls were vaccinated against rubella (rubella is not a serious disease but Congenital Rubella Syndrome is). As a result of introducing the MMR vaccine, there was a considerable decline in CRS but there remain outbreaks of rubella largely in young males:

    http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/HPAweb_C/1195733749711

    There is plenty of evidence for an increased incidence of measles and mumps since the MMR scare. I am surprised that you did not look into this when deciding not to vaccinate your own children. I apologise for not linking to relevant papers as I would if it had been an ordinary blog post rather than a letter of complaint. I’ll make up for it now:

    In 1998 there were 56 confirmed cases of measles in the UK; in 2006 there were 449 in the first five months of the year, with the first death since 1992:

    http://www.bmj.com/content/333/7574/890.full

    This page gives more detailed figures:

    http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/HPAweb_C/1195733778332.

    You will see that the incidence of measles is startlingly high in 2008 and 2009 (1370 and 1144) when compared with figures such as that of 1998 when Wakefield’s paper came out (56) and previous years (112 and 177 in 1996 and 1997).

    In 2008 Measles was declared endemic in the UK. This is shameful as eradication of measles is believed to be a feasible goal:

    http://www.bmj.com/content/333/7574/890.full

    You misunderstood one of the points I raised in my letter: I did not mean there was a greatly increased incidence of death – I meant a greatly increased incidence of measles, which led to serious illness and death. Serious illness and death which could have been prevented. If you do not agree that this is a concern, I suggest you read these articles:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/8068763.stm
    http://www.lambethcommunityservices.nhs.uk/our_services/measles_and_mmr

    This article states ‘a third of children infected with measles will need hospital admission, some will require intensive care:

    http://www.greenwich.nhs.uk/your_health/measles

    There have also been many outbreaks of mumps in the 2000s (though it is mainly among those too old to have had MMR):

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16498380

    I hope this helps clear up some of the issues.

  3. Research has shown that the higher the level of education the mother has, the less likely they are to vaccinate, I’ve traveled through Africa with my children, so it’s not ‘herd immunity’ protecting them, it’s their natural immune system.

    you remark that
    “the incidence of measles is startlingly high in 2008 and 2009 (1370 and 1144) when compared with figures such as that of 1998 when Wakefield’s paper came out (56) and previous years (112 and 177 in 1996 and 1997).”
    implying that this was due to low uptake of vaccine, well the figure for 2010 is 363, so why the massive drop?, vaccination rates are still as low as ever, what if this year the rate drops even lower, say 100, what will be your explanation be then?

  4. Is this the same Tony that also graduated in astrophysics, yet believes the Earth is flat?

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