Nothing to do with us: Measles in Wales

25 Apr

The recent measles outbreak in Wales occurred near Swansea. The local newspaper in the area gave publicity to the autism-MMR vaccine hoax, and may have been behind the area’s relatively poor vaccination rate. Tammy Boyce’s Health Risk and News: The MMR Vaccine and the Media described an examination of the Swansea MMR uptake rates:

Mason and Donnelly (2000) examined coverage of the MMR/Autism story in the local Swansea paper The South Wales Evening Post (SWEP) and compared the Swansea MMR uptake rates with the vaccination rates across Wales. Since 1997, coverage of the MMR vaccine in the SWEP has primarily challenged the safety of the triple jab and supported Wakefield’s theories. Many stories, predominatly written by one journalist, covered the experiences of parents who claimed their child’s autism was linked to MMR vaccine.  Mason and Donnelly found the MMR uptake in the Swansea area declined by 13.6% compared to 2.4% in the rest of Wales, ‘a statistically significant greater decline in the distribution area of the SWEP’. They admit their conclusion cannot claim a causal relationship but they do suggest the newspaper ‘has had a measurable and unhelpful impact over and above any adverse national publicity’.

The newspaper concerned does not make the link between its reporting and reduced MMR vaccine uptake, when reporting the recent outbreak. On August 24th, 2007 the paper was reporting that the low uptake rates for MMR vaccine were a ticking time bomb.

SWANSEA is facing a ticking health time bomb, GPs have warned.
They say unless more mums and dads make sure their youngsters are protected by the MMR jab, the city could face a measles epidemic.
Latest figures show thousands of schoolchildren are being placed at risk because they are not fully protected by the MMR vaccination.
Health chiefs say around 10,000 youngsters aged under 15 are not completely covered because they have not had the full course of treatment. For the vaccine to be effective, children need two jabs. The injections should then protect youngsters from measles, mumps and rubella.
However, uptake in Swansea is among the lowest in Wales.

This can hardly be a surprise to the paper, since less than a month earlier the paper had published an article called “Doctor calls for truth on vaccines” (July 30th 2007) which provided free publicity for Dr Richard Halvorsen. The following extract will allow you to play “anti-vaccine” statement bingo:

Dr Richard Halvorsen, raises his concerns – warning that the Government “misleads us about vaccines”.
Author of a new book, The Truth About Vaccines, he claims that UK children are being used as “guinea pigs” and given “unnecessary” jabs for illnesses such as mumps, and a vaccine for whooping cough which has been “ineffective” in stamping out the illness.
Halvorsen is a GP who has spent five years researching vaccination.
He said: “Vaccine programmes are not the magic bullet cure that they are claimed to be, and bombarding children with a cocktail of vaccines could be causing some serious health problems, with hundreds if not thousands of children adversely affected every year.”
Dr Halvorsen points out that a child is supposed to have 25 vaccines by the time they are 15 months old.
“There remains uncertainty whether the growing number of childhood vaccinations is contributing to the rising numbers of children affected by asthma, diabetes and other immune related disorders,” he claimed.
[…]
“I have been told that there is no one study that can disprove that MMR may cause 10 per cent of autism cases in this country in susceptible children. Studies can show that MMR does not cause all autism.

The Mason and Donnlly paper cited by Boyce is here:

Mason, BW and Donnelly, PD (2000) ‘Impact of a local newspaper campaign on the uptake of MMR vaccine’, Journal of Epidemiological Community Health, 54: 473-474 [link]

Seven years after warnings about their reporting on MMR vaccine, SWEP continued to publish dangerous nonsense about vaccines.

3 Responses to “Nothing to do with us: Measles in Wales”

  1. Squillo April 25, 2009 at 01:42 #

    This is a good example of what’s wrong with “balanced” as opposed to “accurate” journalism.

    Regardless of the accuracy of information, what will resonate with readers more? Stories about MMR causing autism–a condition that has received a huge amount of press of late, or stories about lack of MMR causing measles, a disease that hasn’t been in the news much, and of which most readers have no experience.

  2. dealingwiththeday April 25, 2009 at 12:38 #

    You can call me paranoid if you like, but all this has the air of miss-information about it. I cannot see any reason why, in the face of good science, anyone would discourage vaccination. What possible motive is there? Unfortunately I am old enough to remember the damage done by measles, I lost a friend to measles in the 50’s and lost a lot of schooling to it myself, it is a lot worse than a rash and a temperature! And I hope everyone is prepared for the birth defects associated with rubella, have people forgotten that it is pregnant women who are at most risk from rubella, or german measles as it was called when I was a child. This is not the place to discuss social disadvantage, but I would be curious to know if the same problem has occurred in areas of a similar demographic as the Swansea area.

  3. jdc325 April 26, 2009 at 15:21 #

    @Anthony Cox: Good post. Newspapers such as the South Wales Evening Post published stories that were dangerously wrong – and they have shamelessly ignored their part in the recent measles outbreaks.

    @squillo: “This is a good example of what’s wrong with “balanced” as opposed to “accurate” journalism.”
    I agree – as Nick Davies wrote in Flat Earth News there is a difference between objectivity and neutrality. Newspapers tend to go for the latter now and the effect is that readers often falsely perceive that the two sides of a story have equal merit when this is patently not the case.

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