Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

Most of the 89,780 people who died of measles globally last year were children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organisation.

“Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available,” the medical body says in a fact sheet. “Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus. Before the introduction of [the] measles vaccine in 1963 and widespread vaccination, major epidemics occurred every two to three years and measles caused an estimated 2.6m deaths each year.”

Why, then, would a sane, rational parent willingly choose to ignore the advice to vaccinate, thereby potentially exposing his or her child to a disease that is “one of the leading causes of death among young children”?

And in doing this, they potentially expose other children. The measles vaccine regime works because of “herd immunity”. If everyone does it, no child has to die when a “safe and cost-effective vaccine is available”.

The kind of anti-scientific drivel that emboldens the so-called anti-vaxx movement is all over the Internet. It’s not on the pages of respected titles such as Nature but on no-name websites that patently purvey what we now know as “fake news”.

The unfortunate part is that this long-discredited thesis appeared in The Lancet in 1998, authored by the now disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield. He was struck from the UK’s medical registry after it was discovered his paper linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine with autism was “utterly false”, as the journal called it in a retraction, saying it had been “deceived” by him.

The kind of anti-scientific drivel that emboldens the anti-vaxx movement is all over the Internet

The damage he has done is not insubstantial. Anti-vaxxers are modern-day flat earthers who deny obvious reality because it fits their distorted world view to do so. Decades of peer-reviewed research has failed to find a plausible link between vaccines and autism or auto-immune diseases.

But the Somali community in Minnesota was hoodwinked into believing this by anti-vaxxers, who convinced them their high incidence of autism was linked to vaccines and therefore to stop inoculations. The result is a measles outbreak that is the largest in that state in nearly 30 years.

In an eloquent essay called “Five Vaccine Myths Debunked”, doctors Matthew Falagas and Georgia Vatheia state the blindingly obvious reason that vaccines work: “It is unappreciated by the public and scientists that herd immunity protects vulnerable population groups that cannot receive complete vaccination from potentially severe, life-threatening illnesses, by reducing the probability of transmission of infectious diseases from other members of the community.”

Simply put: you vaccinate your children not only to protect them but to protect all children.

It’s one of the few times a herd mentality is a good thing.

* Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff magazine

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