- Brendan Shaw
Trouble in Paradise: Samoa a tragic test case of anti-vaxxer lunacy
Sadly, the recent measles epidemic in Samoa that has claimed almost 80 lives over the last few months - most of them young children - has tested the anti-vaccination theories on life and revealed them for the fraud they are.
In a bizarre way, Samoa was a tragic test case of the anti-vaccination argument.
A real life trial to test the anti-vax theory in a way no serious health care professional could or would ever do.
I've written about the vaccination debate before, but this latest development deserves scrutiny.
Here was a remote tropical island nation in the Pacific, surrounded by water, with a small population and a very low vaccination rate of 31%.
It could be described as an anti-vaxxer's version of paradise.
Percentage of Samoan infants receiving 1st dose of measles containing vaccine
Source: WHO & UNICEF, "Samoa: estimates of immunisation coverage", 2018 revision, https://www.who.int/immunization/monitoring_surveillance/data/wsm.pdf, accessed 18/12/2019.
A world with little or no vaccination.
And what happened?
In the space of a few months as at 20 December, 5,500 people were infected, almost 1,800 hospitalised and 78 had died - most of the deaths were children under the age of 4.
All dead from a very infectious disease that is entirely preventable with a safe, cheap, effective vaccine.
What has happened in Samoa makes a mockery of all the alternative therapies and 'measles parties' that the anti-vax movement promotes.
The anti-vax movement had been active in Samoa in the months leading up to the current catastrophe.
There were all sorts of mistruths said about vaccines, including rehashing the 20 year old false claims that measles vaccines cause autism.
This was on the back of a tragic accident in the local vaccination program which actually had nothing to do with the vaccine itself, but shook the local people's confidence nonetheless.
And this was leveraged by the anti-vax movement.
The anti-vaxxers' use of social media, using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts to question the safety of vaccines over the last few years, is also partly to blame.
In a welcome departure from the usual UN diplomatic-speak, the Pacific islands chief for UNICEF squarely blamed anti-vaxxers and their use of social media for the catastrophe unfolding in Samoa and called on social media companies to think about their social responsibilities.
Thankfully, a rapid mass vaccination program recently introduced by the Samoan government has pushed up vaccination rates dramatically in the last few weeks.
In recent weeks the vaccination rate has leapfrogged to 94%.
I predict that diehard anti-vaxxers will still try to find other excuses to explain what happened in Samoa and try to shift the blame.
But the reality is that what has happened in Samoa should put ridiculous anti-vax theories to the sword.
The anti-vax alternative view of the world has been graphically tested in a tropical paradise and found out for the fraud that it is.
Unfortunately almost 80 kids had to die to prove the point.