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Let’s not give in to unfounded measles hysteria

Image courtesy Centers for Disease Control
Image of the measles virus.
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NORMAN, Okla. -- As of May 1st, there have been over 700 cases of measles in the United States so far this year. Quite a few, yes, and the major media outlets have dutifully reported that number as often as possible. But measles is a mild, self-limiting infection, with the infected person normally clearing it within a week. So where is the coverage of all the people that have fully recovered? It should be close to 700 by now, why aren’t we hearing about it? Why, also, aren’t we learning that those infected this year now carry a lifetime immunity to measles? And why is the focus solely on the measles, while the far larger mumps outbreak currently plaguing college campuses is virtually ignored?

Rather than treating this year’s measles season with even a shred of sober reflection, the major media outlets have run hysterical, hyperbolic headlines seemingly designed to induce fear and paranoia far out of proportion to actual risk, and recklessly frightening the public into believing the measles is on par with Ebola, or the Plague. It’s not. But the media sells fear because, unsurprisingly, fear sells. They also sell fear because selling fear sells the products of their advertisers. And with one of their top advertisers being the pharmaceutical industry, this media-stoked fear and paranoia sells vaccines.

Pharma companies regularly spend more on advertising than they do on research, and they have become very good at media campaigns that scare the public right into the arms of their products. In industry parlance, the makeover given to measles as some kind of rampant killer is called “disease branding”, which refers to the process of hyping a disease in order to sell the cure. In this instance, hype unmoored to any sense of reality. And this fear-based marketing of measles sells not only a pharmaceutical product, but also legislation, as there are mandatory vaccination bills sweeping the country, riding the wave of media-induced fear.

Measles itself is not deadly or even dangerous in any meaningful sense. Even at the height of measles infections in the U.S. in the 1960’s, there were 400 deaths out of around 4 million cases each year, or 1 in 10,000, according to the CDC’s own statistics. And the vaccine didn’t save us from measles, as complications from the infection plummeted dramatically long before the vaccine arrived on the scene. You’re far more likely to die falling out of your bed in the morning. I also don’t remember a fear-based media blitz on behalf of tuberculosis, of which there were 9,000 cases reported in the U.S. in 2018 alone.

But while baselessly stoking fear of an illness as mild as measles, they have simultaneously fanned the flames of prejudice and anger against those that question the safety and efficacy of vaccines. These people have been rebranded just as effectively, and as falsely, as measles itself. “Anti-vaxxer” has become the preferred pejorative to dismiss any and all arguments that run counter to the narrative that vaccines are “safe and effective”. “The anti-vaxxers are spreading misinformation!” Oh really? What does this misinformation consist of? No answer, only a chorus demanding that they be censored. Much of what is considered “misinformation” consists of nothing more than facts that are inconvenient for the ‘measles as rampant killer’ narrative. Their apprehension arises from the disturbing facts that surround many of the vaccines that most Americans accept without question.

One such fact is that Merck, the corporation enjoying a monopoly on the manufacture of the MMR vaccine, is currently embroiled in a lawsuit brought by two former vaccinologists-turned-whistleblowers, who allege that Merck committed fraud to conceal the fact that the mumps component of its vaccine was ineffective. Is this the reason for the fast-spreading outbreak of mumps, and conspicuous lack of coverage?

Merck is also in court over alleged fraud regarding its Gardasil vaccine, brought by the attorneys for Jennifer Robi, who was permanently crippled by the vaccine at age 17. What is unique about Robi’s case is that it is proceeding in civil court. Normally, a vaccine-injured individual is prevented from suing the manufacturer, who enjoy complete legal immunity to injury lawsuits thanks to a 1986 bill, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. Now, if you suffer an injury, you take your case to “vaccine court”, officially known as the Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and make your case, not to a jury, but to a “special master”, who then decides if you deserve compensation. Although this “court” turns away around 75 percent of petitioners, it has paid out over $4 billion to the vaccine-injured since it was created.

Another instance of a Merck vaccine causing harm is in the death of New Jersey resident Holly Ravola in 2000. Holly died shortly after her fifth birthday, after receiving a second MMR dose, which induced acute encephalopathy. After Holly’s death, her mother, Robin, was paid $250,000 for her daughter’s death, a sum that she considers “blood money”. But out of her daughter’s death came Holly’s Law, also known as the Antibody Titer Law, allowing parents to have blood tests administered for evidence of measles immunity before a second MMR shot is administered.

Merck is the same company that committed fraud during research for its infamous drug, Vioxx. The pain medication, prescribed to over 25 million U.S. citizens from 1999 to 2004, ended up killing at least 55,000 people, and probably many more. The medication induced lethal heart attacks, a fact known to Merck before the drug was approved by the FDA. Rather than being tossed to the bottom of a well, CEO Ray Gilmartin got off scot free, and floated on a golden parachute to Harvard where he was given a teaching position at Harvard Business School. This is the corporation that manufactures the MMR, Gardasil, PedvaxHIB, and others, that you give to your children.  

The media-driven marginalization of people who raise legitimate questions about the safety and efficacy of vaccines has reached heights equally as absurd as that of measles hysteria itself. Hasidic Jewish communities in New York are facing unprecedented prejudice as a direct result of this ignorant incitement against anyone who questions vaccine orthodoxy. The Washington Post recently published a venomous op-ed by Juliette Kayyem calling for “isolation, fines, and arrests” of “anti-vaxxers”: “With more than 700 reported cases confirmed in 22 states, it is now a public safety crisis, and the tools of public safety: arrests, fines, isolation, are absolutely necessary.”  

She compares vaccine-hesitant individuals to sex offenders, calling for a database of unvaccinated families. She stops short of advocating outright violence, but the tone suggests that it is on her mind. And in her mind it would be morally justified, which is the most disturbing aspect of her ignorant diatribe.  At the end of the article she says what I had suspected: “This language is harsh, the language of a Homeland Security expert…”. Of course she is. In fact she is the faculty chair of the Homeland Security Project at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, so in fairness to her, she interprets the world through a prism of paranoia, hallucinating civilization-ending threats on a daily basis. It’s her job to be paranoid, and she does it very well.

Kayyem’s hyperbolic, hateful piece is a product of an emotionally overwrought individual that has completely abandoned their capacity to think critically. It’s the mindset of a lynch mob, and it would be a tragedy if it incited someone to commit an act of mindless violence against someone due to their beliefs about vaccines. But that is where this reckless rhetoric is leading unless sober voices begin to speak up.

Measles is not Ebola, nor the Plague, nor is it a real threat to anyone, and the fear being peddled is far out of proportion to whatever small risk exists. The true danger lies in a mob-like overreaction, deliberately inflamed by the media at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, that says we can’t question the narrative created and incessantly promoted by the major media outlets. This includes vaccines, which deserve scrutiny, and criticism just like everything else. If they’ve caused injuries and deaths, it should be plainly discussed, no matter how uncomfortable. Only religions demand ideological conformity, and seek to censor anyone to question it.

Let’s pull ourselves out of the mindless paranoia that the media, and government, have led us into. What we have to fear is the susceptibility to propaganda , and the ease with which we appear to be led, herd-like, into supporting new wars, new legislation, or some other monstrosity “branded” by the powerful. What we need to cultivate is a healthy immunity to political and corporate propaganda, in order to be recognize when politicians and corporations are preparing to pick our pockets and strip us of our right to choose."

Shane Smith is a writer living in Norman, Oklahoma.

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Shane Smith

Shane Smith is an accountant and freelance writer with a bachelor's degree in economics from...

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