NY Times Deceives about the Odds of Dying from Measles in the US
On January 9, the New York Times published an article written by Dr. Peter J. Hotez titled “You Are Unvaccinated and Got Sick. These Are Your Odds.” His purpose in writing is to persuade parents to vaccinate their children according to the routine schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To that end, he purports to compare “the dangerous effects of three diseases with the minimal side effects of their corresponding vaccines.”
The Times presents Hotez as a scientist and pediatrician at the Baylor College of Medicine, and in recent years he’s become a leading go-to “expert” for the mainstream media on the topic of vaccines. Undisclosed by the Times is that he’s also a vaccine developer who holds several patents for vaccines against tropical diseases and co-director of the school’s Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. In 2017, the center entered a partnership with the German pharmaceutical company Merck KGaA to advance development of vaccines for tropical diseases (not to be confused with Merck & Co., the US vaccine manufacturer).
He doesn’t illuminate why the public had negative reactions to these vaccines. The reason this was so for GSK’s malaria vaccine was that, while it was shown to be initially effective, the protective effect waned over time and after five years of follow up resulted in children being at an increased risk of infection from malaria parasites. The reason this was so for Sanofi’s dengue vaccine was that, after it was implemented into the childhood schedule the Philippines upon the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) and hundreds of thousands of doses were administered under the pretense of a proven “safe” vaccine, it was likewise shown to increase the risk of serious dengue infection among children who had not already experienced a prior infection. The public outrage was all the more pronounced because it was also learned that Sanofi, Philippines health officials, and the WHO had ignored early warnings that the vaccine might cause precisely that outcome.
It is highly instructive that Hotez views the problem not as the proven untrustworthiness of the pharmaceutical companies and government health agencies, but rather the inability of the industry to fund products that are dangerous and cost ineffective. It’s equally instructive that he mindlessly dismisses public opposition as mere “antivaccine” sentiment attributable to some monolithic “movement” rather than reflecting parents’ legitimate concerns, including anger over entire populations being used essentially as subjects of a mass uncontrolled experiment without informed consent. Relevantly, the decline in vaccination rates in the Philippines was a result of this rightful erosion of public trust, which is attributed with causing a major measles outbreak in 2017.
Superficially, the measles risk analysis Hotez presents to New York Times readers is persuasive. The way he presents his data, it’s a no-brainer that parents in the US should vaccinate their children since the risks from measles so obviously outweigh the risks from the vaccine. But Hotez is preying on people’s ignorance by presenting an invalid risk-benefit analysis that is not serious and does not address parents’ legitimate concerns about vaccinating their children strictly according to the CDC’s schedule. Rather, the article is transparently intended to deceive parents about the risks in order to scare them into compliance.
in the text of his article, he cites the high death rate in the recent outbreak in Samoa as though it was relevant for the risk-benefit analysis of the New York Times’s predominantly American audience. (While the Times certainly has a global reach, according to traffic data from SimilarWeb, more than 78 percent of its website’s audience are in the US.)
His graphic shows a fatality rate in Samoa of 146 deaths per 10,000 cases (83 deaths out of 5,697 cases). What he doesn’t explicitly inform his American readers is that measles mortality differs by population. While mortality remains tragically high in developing countries, in developed countries like the US, the mortality rate is very low. His graph does show the Samoan fatality rate as a separate figure from the “10 to 30 child deaths” that he says occur for every 10,000 people who get measles (which is untrue, as we’ll come to), but he offers no comment on why the death rate in Samoa is so much higher.
Hotez also does not inform his readers that most of the decline in measles mortality seen in the US during the twentieth century occurred before the introduction of the first measles vaccine in 1963. During the pre-vaccine era in the US, measles was seen as a mostly benign illness that, yes, could and did sometimes cause death, but which most children’s immune systems handled just fine on their own, resulting in the development of a robust lifelong immunity.
The obvious question this raises is what factors other than vaccination affect the risk of complications from measles infection. In light of this important question, it’s useful to point out that this dramatic decline in mortality wasn’t true just for measles. In fact, as noted in a paper published in 2000 in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “nearly 90% of the decline in infectious disease mortality among US children occurred before 1940, when few antibiotics or vaccines were available.” Hence, “vaccination does not account for the impressive declines in mortality seen in the first half of the century.”
The dramatic decline in infectious disease mortality is attributed instead to factors associated with a general increase in the standard of living, including improved nutritional status among children. With measles, for example, Vitamin A deficiency is a known risk factor for potentially deadly complications.
Hotez demonstrates a total lack of curiosity about what the risk factors are for measles complications. This reflects the attitude of public health officials back in the 1960s. Rather than directing resources toward determining the risk factors and developing targeted interventions for children at higher risk, vaccination was selected as a one-size-fits-all solution, and science ever since has been trapped in this myopic and pharmaceutical-centric approach to disease prevention. The narcissistic attitude of public health officials in 1962 in declaring the goal of eradicating measles in the US within a year with just a single dose of the vaccine—despite measles being recognized as a “self-limiting infection of short duration, moderate severity, and low fatality”—was that this should be done because “it can be done.”
Needless to say, the assumptions underlying that policy were wrong.https://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/20 ... in-the-us/