Before vaccines, measles use to infect an estimated 3-4 million people a year in the United States (CDC, 2012). Measles led to brain inflammation for 1 in 1000 and death in 1 in 500 (CDC, 2012). Medical scientists have developed a safe and effective vaccine for measles that is now part of the standard vaccine schedule in most western countries. However, due to parents failing to vaccinate their children combined with the fact that no vaccine is 100% effective, herd immunity is compromised. This can lead to measles outbreak and the needless suffering of children.
Because of numerous measles cases in Calgary, Central and Edmonton, the Alberta Health Services (AHS) has officially declared that they are in the midst of several measles outbreaks in these zones (AHS, 2014). As a response, the AHS is now encouraging parents to make sure their children are up-to-date with their measles vaccines. In Calgary, more than 100 parents had lined up Northgate Measles Immunization Clinic before it opened. However, anti-vaccine cranks were not slow to exploit this situation.
In a stunning case of bad medical journalism, Metro Calgary journalist Jeremy Nolais promoted the anti-vaccine homeopath Donna Powers in a recent article he wrote. Using a classic false balance approach, Nolais allows the spread of anti-vaccine misinformation under the disguise of “education”.
Her article outlines the history of the disease — including how it was “normal” for kids to come down with measles in the 1960s and how that would give them lifelong immunity — and raises concerns about potential side-effects of the vaccine.
Powers also runs a 12-week course called “Vaccine Free: Now What?” in which she claims homeopathy can be used to treat infectious illness.
In her blog post, Powers repeat many classic anti-vaccine falsehoods. In reality, the measles vaccine is attenuated, so it cannot cause measles. Homeopathy is not an effective treatment for infectious diseases. Vaccines reduce the number of new cases of measles, not the death rate if you do get infected with measles. In an effort to distract from the dangerous of measles, Powers claims that the disease is not a big deal and that you get lifelong immunity afterwards. She forgets to tell her readers about the 1 in 1000 who got brain inflammation and 1 in 500 who died before the vaccine existed.
At the end of April, there were 22 confirmed cases in these regions. Anti-vaccine cranks are likely to dismiss this as no big deal, but they fail to understand that measles is enormously infectious and can spread like wildfire. According to the CDC (2009), 90% of susceptible individuals near a person will measles will become infected. The virus can be spread by respiratory droplets by coughing or sneezing.
As a journalist for a big newspaper, Jeremy Nolais has an intellectual responsibility not to spread misinformation, especially during a measles epidemic. So far, he has failed to accepted that responsibility.
AHS. (2014). Measles outbreak. Accessed: 2014-05-01.
CDC. (2009). Transmission of Measles. Accessed: 2014-05-01.
CDC. (2012). Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases: Measles. Accessed: 2014-05-01.