Some thoughts about the measles panic

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True or false:

Darla Shine tweet

Over on Metabunk forum, member Dan Wilson has written a good overview: Can measles make you healthier and fight cancer?

...But what if you survive measles complication free? Is your immune system stronger? The answer turns out to be the exact opposite. In every country, measles vaccines are associated with decrease risk of death from all disease... A team of scientists from four different institutions investigated this correlation and found that being infected with measles actually creates a sort of "immune amnesia" where the patient is more likely to be infected and die of other infectious disease over the next 2 to 3 years. ...

...the measles virus being used for [multiple myeloma] treatment was not a natural one. ... the virus used to cure this patient's cancer is the same that would be used in a vaccine. So, it could be argued that a heavy dose of measles vaccine actually has the potential to treat certain cancers. Virotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that is currently being heavily studied and a weakened, non-infectious form of virus is used in every case. ...

Yes, we should never make decisions based on media scare stories.  But this applies equally to the anti-vax scare stories being spread by (and often for the financial benefit of) alternative websites and spokespersons.

It's a complicated issue.  First, we can't get "clean" news, because the news media (including most alternative news sources) are an entertainment/advertising industry.

Between news media and social media, the news we do get is sorted, amplified, or suppressed, in very strange ways (e.g. based on politics, religion, education, social class, etc, rather than on actual truthfulness and reliability).

It's in our nature to be more trusting of people that we like, and who are like us.  So we end up getting a disproportionate amount of our news from people (and media sources) that seem to share our politics, religion, education, social class, etc.

Add to this our love of the archetypical hero refusing to surrender in the face of massive opposition.  The right of dissent is vital, but not every dissenter is heroic (or factually correct).  It's easy to slide into conspiracy theories about lone scientists being censored and suppressed — and to discount the research results from majority scientists.

All of the above is a great culture medium for division and mistrust.  There's evidence that Russia et al are seeding our news stream to encourage this, but us Americans are perfectly capable of doing it all on our own.

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" — Isaac Asimov, 1980

We assume that every problem requires government legislation, regulation, and enforcement.  But government action is always binary: either something is forbidden or it's allowed.  Even in the rare situations where science can give us a neat binary result (e.g. the Earth is not flat), we argue about it — and usually, science can only give us probabilities.

Morality (religious or otherwise) doesn't give us binary answers either.  (Thou shalt not kill.  Certain restrictions may apply.  Not available in all areas.  Unlimited right-to-life plans may be limited under some circumstances.)

Complicated enough, even if only one person has to bear the consequences of the decision.  But with vaccination, we've also got contagion, and parents making decisions for children.

For healthcare decisions, are parental rights unlimited?  At present, America says no.  We hear tragic stories of parents who fed their newborn a vegan diet, or prayed instead of phoning 911 when a child was near death from illness or injury.  Most of us agree that these parents should have any surviving children removed from their care, and in some cases should be prosecuted.  So where do we draw the (binary) line?  Everyone seems pretty sure of themselves about where to draw the line on vaccinations.  Why?  What makes your line right and my line wrong?  (Remember, only government can save us, so one of us has to win.)

Here's where I draw my line:

Measles is well documented to be dangerous, because of the disease itself and also because it damages the immune system.  The measles vaccine, in contrast, is well documented to be non-dangerous for nearly all people.

When measles was common, most of us acquired a little immunity because of frequent exposure to weakened and killed viruses in our environment.  The cost of this natural immunity was that lots of kids suffered an unpleasant disease, and a few suffered serious symptoms or death.  Now that the virus is uncommon, we no longer have this natural immunity (or its cost).  So we MUST replace it with artificial exposure to a safe form of the virus.

If, for no medical reason, you refuse to give your child a measles vaccine, you are a negligent parent.

If you intentionally infect your child with measles, you ought to go to jail.

Sorry if that's too blunt, but that's my opinion.