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Chickenpox "parties". They had their day - and that day was before the chickenpox vaccine came on the scene. Because chickenpox can be much worse in teens and adults, back in the day it did make sense to contract the disease in early childhood. In fact, it was almost unavoidable, given the epidemic nature of this virus. But a vaccine is now available, so we've moved on, right? 

Unfortunately, wrong - here's a NewshubZB story on a recent invitation to just such an event. And here's the actual invitation, from the FB page Bring Vaxxed to Australia/New Zealand:

The responses were enthusiastic - and quite frightening. First up, people giving this sort of advice:

They could not be more wrong. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. It can lie dormant in the peripheral nervous system for years before erupting into a blistering rash that is often excruciatingly & unremittingly painful. The odds of developing shingles, if someone's had chickenpox, are around 1 in 3 for those (like me) in the 'older' demographic, which is why I've had the 'shingles' vaccine (like all vaccines, not 100% effective, but better than nothing). Yes, prior to the varicella vaccine both chickenpox and shingles were effectively unavoidable - but why put a child at such high risk of future pain and discomfort now we have the means to avoid that?

And while we're talking discomfort - the chickenpox blisters can appear internally as well as externally, causing extreme discomfort. But hey, that's transient! And claims to the contrary are clearly fake news.

Chickenpox isn't exactly benign, either. Infants, teens, adults, and those with compromised immune systems (eg due to chemotherapy or immunosupressant drugs) may be more seriously ill and be at high risk of complications. These complications can include bacterial infections, pneumonia, encephalitis, septicaemia, all of which may result in hospitalisation. Despite claims on the "Bring Vaxxed..." page, infection of chickenpox blisters is not exactly rare: between November 2011 & October 2013 144 children were hospitalised with complications of chickenpox. Infections were found in 75% of cases. The median hospital stay was 4 days; 9% of those 144 ended up in intensive care, & up to 20% of cases had ongoing health issues after leaving hospital. Maori & Pacific Island children were overrepresented in these statistics.

This information isn't hard to find. And yet there are people, like those in the images above, who'd prefer to let their children run the risk of outcomes like these instead of use a vaccine with a high chance of conferring immunity (& so preventing shingles in later life). Not only that, they'll happily ask about measles parties (Andrew Wakefield has a lot to answer for, in contributing to the myths around measles vaccination), and even discuss sending swabs from their child to others in Australia. I kid you not.


Green nails it.

Are people really so wary of evidence-based medicine that they would rather ask someone they know only through the internet to send a swab of unknown provenance in the mail, in the hope of infecting their own child with goodness knows what?

It appears that some are :(




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Like another, far more significant, blogger, I seem to be spending a bit of time on the subject of vaccines & vaccinations. But - given the mumps outbreaks in Auckland & Waikato, and the measles epidemic in Romania & other countries in Europe - it's a subject worth more than one look. 

As a result of a discussion on a community Facebook page, I discovered that Alfred Russel Wallace had become involved in the antivaccine movement in the UK, & had penned a book presenting stats that appeared to show that smallpox vaccination presented no population benefits. He noted that even after compulsory vaccination was introduced in England, epidemics of this awful disease remained a thing. in his comments on the possible size of the unvaccinated population, he noted that "a large but unknown number of the criminal and nomad population ... escape the vaccination officers". However, a bit more reading shows that there was more to it than this.

It turns out that it wasn't only the 'criminal & nomad' population that avoided compulsory vaccination - avoidance was widespread and it seems that there was no penalty for this. In other words, it should not have been surprising that smallpox morbidity and mortality remained high in the UK after the vaccine was introduced. This excellent article describes both the historical and human consequences of a whole town's refusal to accept vaccination against smallpox: the Board of Guardians of the town of Gloucester had voted in 1887 "to take no futher steps in vaccination prosecutions". The outcome? By 1895 a staggering 83% of the population was not vaccinated.

So when smallpox flared up in the town in 1896 the results were predictable, and horrifying. While the town implemented a mass vaccination scheme in response to the spread of disease, which brought it under control, over the 6-month duration of the epidemic 

1981 people had been infected. Two-thirds of these were children under ten. The handful of these who had been vaccinated all survived. of the unvaccinated, 40% died.

Follow the link. Read the story. Look at the images of Ethel Cromwell, the human face of this particular outbreak. And understand that, if it weren't for vaccination, this disease & its accompanying death and disfiguration would still be with us today.

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In the Spinoff today, there's an OP on the ... 'alternative' ... views of a member of our local City Council. It's worth a read. I knew that the councillor was against the use of community water fluoridation (CWF) as a public health measure, but going by various postings she's made in social media, we can add anti-vaccine to the list. 

For instance: she feels that Council shouldn't pay for its staff to receive the flu vaccine - personally I'd hope that our elected representatives would think about things such as cost-benefit analysis. What are the costs to the organisation of having staff away on sick leave? (The University provides free vaccination against flu because it works out better for the institution that way.) However, her position appears to be based on an argument from incredulity: for some reason she "doesn't trust Ministry of Health recommendations". Personally I'm concerned that someone should choose to oppose public health recommendations via a social media page that identifies them as an elected representative; it can appear to give that opinion more weight.

According to the Spinoff writer, other claims made by the councillor include: that babies given vitamin K may develop childhood leukaemia (wrong); that CWF is linked to ADHD (wrong); that adults with polio can cure themselves by taking vitamin C (wrong) that measles is a hoax (wrong). And - horrifyingly - that whooping cough doesn't kill children (she could not be more wrong, and warning: this is a distressing video to watch). I guess that's what you get when people view Natural News as a reliable source of information.

In that light, I wonder how our councillor views the current measles epidemic in Romania

I'm beginning to think that the very success of vaccination has allowed the rise and spread of antivaccination views. Most people in first-world countries have not had first-hand experience of children dying of measles, diphtheria, and whooping cough; have forgotten the images of wards full of children (& adults) in iron lungs because their muscles are paralysed by polio; are unaware of the >30% mortality rate of smallpox, & the dreadful scarring seen in many survivors. If the promotion of antivaccine views results in communities losing herd immunity, then those diseases - which in many cases are literally only a plane flight away - could come surging back. 

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It's a bit concerning to hear of outbreaks of mumps in Auckland & the Waikato, as this suggests that in some areas the number of vaccinated individuals in the population has fallen below what's needed to maintain herd immunity: see Siouxsie Wiles' excellent post on this. One of the admins on my local suburb's Facebook page posted information about the Waikato outbreak, with a reminder to people to check their own & their children's immunisation status. This is because mumps isn't a particularly benign disease, especially in older children, teens, and adults

I suppose we could have predicted that those promoting an 'alternative' take on vaccinations would appear.


The 'discussion' was mildly entertaining, in that apparently this particular individual's 'brilliant' science education via the University of Google totally trumps all of immunology - especially so when they presented this particular book as evidence that All Vaccines Are Evil. In fact, that totally cracked me up.

Why? Because this book, by Alfred Russel Wallace (yes, that Alfred Russel Wallace) was published in 1889, and was based on data on mortality drawn from the UK's birth and death registers. Unfortunately the admin of our local FB page disabled comments before I could ask just which vaccines were being used way back then, if - as claimed - the book showed that all vaccines were baaaad.

As it happens, just three vaccines were available in the period that Wallace reviewed: smallpox (1797), cholera (1879), and rabies (1885). Given that rabies vaccine was given after exposure to the virus, the only two likely to have been in play in Wallace's England were the vaccines for smallpox & cholera. Wallace seems to have focused on the smallpox vaccine in his book. As you'd expect, conditions for manufacturing, transporting, and using the vaccine were not exactly up to modern standards. According to this article (you'll find the original references cited there),

Until the end of the 19th Century vaccination was done either directly with vaccine produced on the skin of calves or, particularly in England, with vaccine obtained from the calf but then maintained by arm-to-arm transfer; initially in both cases vaccine could be dried on ivory points for short term storage or transport but increasing use was made of glass capillary tubes for this purpose towards the end of the century. During this period there were no adequate methods for assessing the safety of the vaccine and there were instances of contaminated vaccine transmitting infections such as erysipelas, tetanus, septicaemia and tuberculosis. In the case of arm-to-arm transfer there was also the risk of transmitting syphilis.

Nonetheless, childhood vaccination against smallpox was made compulsory in England in 1853 - a measure of the fear with which this disease was regarded. 

During the period surveyed by Wallace, he recorded a 'slight decrease' in smallpox mortality, and there was indeed an epidemic in the final decade of his study. However, he himself notes that the unvaccinated population would have included:

infants dying under vaccination age, ... children too weakly or diseased to be vaccinated, ... [and] a large but unknown number of the criminal and nomad population who escape the vaccination officers. These are often badly fed and live under the most unsanitary conditions; they are, therefore, especially liable to suffer in epidemics of Small-pox...

And given the lack of any other vaccines against measles, diphtheria, typhoid, tetanus and others, it should hardly have been a surprise to his readers (now or then) that deaths from those diseases continued unabated. 

However, I should thank the person who posted that link (although I can't, because she blocked me) - without it, I'd probably never have known about Wallace's stance on vaccinations.

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