Concern about the ruthless drive for a vaccine has prompted worries that when one does arrive it may be made mandatory on the grounds that if it were safe and effective, there would be no need to refuse it (see my blog ‘Government response to Vaccine Petition). The government’s response has been a campaign to show just how effective vaccines can be using the example of the measles vaccine.
"Since the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1968,” ran a recent announcement “it is estimated that 20 million cases and 4,500 deaths have been averted in the UK.”
Having followed the vaccines debate for years, this seemed another example of vaccine hype. I wanted to know more about the basis for this claim. What I found out was shocking and surprising and strongly suggested the vaccine did not work in the way the government has assumed.
I’m not an anti-vaxxer - an effective safe vaccination against a horrible disease is obviously a great boon, but given the disreputable history of risks hidden or ignored and benefits exaggerated, a degree of healthy scepticism seems sensible.
After all, while measles can be extremely unpleasant, it is not realistically describable as life-threatening in healthy children in the UK. There is about one infant death every five years from measles, or the complications of it, in severely immune-compromised children or adults, despite up to a quarter of infants not being vaccinated. You can see the numbers for yourself here.
The last death recorded for a child in the UK was in 2016. The child is not listed as ‘unvaccinated’ so presumably had been vaccinated. In 2008 an [unvaccinated] child with congenital immunodeficiency died. In 2006 a 13-year old [unvaccinated] boy with an underlying lung condition, who was taking immunosuppressive drugs, also died from the complications of measles.
So, we are getting a small bang-for-your-bucks with mass measles vaccination. This is especially true of you consider the role played by vitamins. For children in underdeveloped countries the disease can be life threatening for those who lack recommended levels of vitamins A or C. Deaths from measles have now been massively reduced in these countries by providing adequate amounts of vitamin A. According to the World Health Organisation “Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A” They recommend that all children with measles should receive vitamin A at the time of diagnosis and a second dose the next day. Vitamin A and zinc fortification of food is the most cost- effective intervention, even more so than immunisation, concludes a study in the British medical Journal1. A review of the impact of vaccination compared to vitamin A in the Lancet in 2010 found that vaccination was 85% effective in preventing measles disease, thus we can assume it would reduce mortality to the same extent, while two doses of vitamin A, as per the WHO recommendations, reduced mortality by 62%2.
My digging suggests to me that the figure of “4,500 deaths being averted” looks like another exaggeration with nothing solid to support it.
It is attributed to Public Health England and seems to be based on the measles death rate before vaccination began in 1968, when it was around 50 per year. So, 50 years of 50 fewer deaths equals 2,500 lives saved.
This makes the 4,500 figures look generous, especially since it is based on the assumption that the drop in deaths since 1968 was entirely due to vaccination, with no input from improved nutrition or better emergency medical care. Even though this claim is widely quoted, I cannot find any research or mathematical basis for it.
So What Caused the Decline in Measles Deaths?
The graphs below show that while vaccination, post 1968, undoubtedly played a part in reducing measles deaths, deaths had already dropped from roughly 1000 a year in the 1940’s to 100 a year in the 1960’s. Something else was clearly at work to produce this 90% drop. It was probably largely due to tackling vitamin A deficiency, which is the major driver of deaths in large parts of the world, helped by the popularity and prescription of cod liver oil to all pregnant and nursing mothers, as well as children in the UK.
The next graph below shows clearly that the number of cases and deaths steadily dropped since the vaccination was introduced. But as I’ve already pointed out, the assumption that the drop was entirely due to the vaccine isn’t plausible. The increased availability of vitamin A would certainly have played a part.
And two other vitamins – C and D - were on the ascent and would also have helped people resist infection. The increasing popularity of vitamin C, based on the pioneering work of my mentor Linus Pauling, as well as vitamin D for preventing rickets, which we now know also plays an important role in immunity., are unsung heroes. As for the MMR vaccine, the graph below shows it was a very late arrival in war against the measles virus.
Along with many other children in the 60’s, I was given a daily Haliborange supplement containing both vitamins A, C and D. Drinking orange juice and eating oranges and other vitamin C rich fruits had become commonplace. Vitamin C intake from diet alone increased from 43mg in 1945 to 59mg in 20003. however many children were also given supplements. Vitamin A increased more dramatically from 2908mcg in 1945 to 4370mcg by 1965, coinciding with the decrease in measles deaths prior to vaccination4.
Free milk, another source of vitamin A, C and D, was given to children and pregnant and nursing women on welfare from the 40’s to the 60’s. It’s true that these are all ‘associations’ which doesn’t prove cause. However both vitamins A and C, as well as vaccinations, have good evidence for reducing measles deaths, all by enhancing the immune response. Back in the 40’s Dr Frederick Klenner was using vitamin C to combat a measles outbreak in North Carolina5. To quote him: “In this experiment it was found that 1000mg every four hours, by mouth, would modify the attack. Smaller doses allowed the disease to progress. When 1000mg was given every two hours all evidence of the infection cleared in 48 hours.”
In these Covid times authorities seem to have forgotten the vital role vitamins played in immune response against any virus as explained in my recent co-authored paper ‘Could Vitamins Help in the Fight Against COVID-19?’ published in the Nutrients journal6.
How Deadly is Measles?
The usual figure quoted is that about 1 in 5,000 children infected with the virus die. Since most deaths are in immune-compromised children, the risk to healthy children is probably less than half this - below 1 in 10,000. For comparison, the lifetime risk of dying in a traffic accident is 1 in 240.
That’s why, when I was a child, born in 1958, catching measles was actively encouraged since infection conferred lifelong natural immunity. This was worth having because measles in later life was potentially more dangerous.
This public health success story, a vaccine estimated to be 90% effective plus the added protection provided by better nutrition, came to an end in 1998 when the single measles vaccine was no longer available on the NHS, to be replaced with the controversial MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.
This was less effective than the single vaccine and associated with more, and occasionally, albeit rarely, more severe, adverse reactions. But the 3-in-1 combination did lead to greater uptake, which coincided with a further drop in measles deaths. Soon they were down to single figures annually.
However, along with this came with an increased concern about the vaccine’s side-effects. The result is that 14% of children are currently not vaccinated against measles and an 86% vaccination rate is not enough to get herd immunity, hence the drive to encourage vaccination.
But as we’ve seen so far, the measles vaccine story it is littered with misleading warnings and exaggerated claims. And the drive to overcome parental resistance and push up MMR uptake rates has led to a new myth.
Whenever there is an outbreak of measles, the assumption by the government-briefed media is that this will lead to a rise in the number of cases, which in turn will lead to a rise in the number of deaths from measles. It certainly sounds logical but is it what actually happens?
A chart on the government website shows this very clearly but neither the government experts nor the media seem to have looked at. It shows that there is no connection between the number of cases of measles and the number of deaths. See these links on cases here.
This shows the number of cases in any one year has been as high as 2,032 in 2012 and as low as 56 in 1998. The number of cases was below 150 in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2014 and 2015 and above 1,000 in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Is there a pattern? Not really. Some years are just better than others.
But not only does the number of cases vary wildly – far more than any of the supposedly killer outbreaks caused by antivaxxers - but for the past 20 years a rise or a fall in cases has had no effect on the number of deaths. That has stayed firmly at 1 or zero.
As you can see from the table below there’s no clear cut association. For example, in 2012 when there are 2032 cases of measles there’s one death and in 2001 when there are 70 cases there’s also one death.
What’s even more surprising and even less supportive of the official claims about the success of measles vaccination, is that the chances of dying if infected is now is higher than when vaccination was first introduced. Then the death rate was 1 in 5000 cases, now it is about 1 in 1,000. I don't have an explanation for this.
Is Death Risk Higher in the Unvaccinated?
Are these deaths all non-vaccinated people? You’d think so if the vaccine was almost completely effective. The government lists each death as either ‘unvaccinated’ or leaves the box blank, which must mean vaccinated, a fact that is easily found in the medical records. After all, if they know who hasn’t been vaccinated, the rest must be vaccinated. So was it protective?
The figures show, surprisingly, that more of those who died were vaccinated. Out of 10 recorded deaths since 2000 3 are listed as ‘unvaccinated’ so the other 7 must have been vaccinated. There are 2 deaths in immunocompromised children, 7 in adults and 1 in an infant assumed to not be immunocompromised and vaccinated.
That’s 3 child deaths out of 7867 cases of measles ( eg 1 death per 2,663 cases). But only one death in a non immune-compromised and therefore presumably healthy child eg 1 in 7,867. This might indicate that the risk of death from measles in a healthy child is, in reality, very small indeed. It might be even smaller in a child with optimal vitamin status.
But beware: it would be wrong to say that a vaccinated child is more than twice as likely to die than an unvaccinated child (eg 7 vs 3) as 8 out of 10 children are vaccinated. So this finding may simply reflect a cross section of the population where you’d expect 8 to be vaccinated and 2 to not be vaccinated.
Also, two of the unvaccinated children were immunocompromised and it is precisely these children that may have an increased risk of an adverse reaction to the MMR vaccine. They may have been advised not to have it for this reason. One of the central ideas of herd immunity is precisely to reduce viral exposure to those children unsuitable for vaccination. But if this is true then it would an admission of potential harmful reactions to vaccinations in certain children. It would mean that it is false to claim that MMR vaccination is 100% safe – an untruth illustrated by massive multi million dollar financial pay-outs, including three cases that went to court and the judge ruled that the vaccine had caused damage.
But given that there are more than half a million unvaccinated children (14% of 4 million children under the age of five) surely we’d expect a worse outcome especially when measles outbreaks occur? What is known is that children who die from measles are either immunocompromised or deficient in vitamin A or C, which also leads to immunological compromise, as occurs in under-developed countries.
Perhaps this is now less likely in the UK than prior to 1968. Or perhaps, with relative herd immunity, there’s simply less viral exposure.
Even so, it is an anomaly to see no association between cases and deaths as well as no clear reduced risk of death in those vaccinated versus unvaccinated.
Regardless of the reasons for these puzzling results, there seem to be two obvious and simple things that could be done to improve the situation, both of which the government has refused to do for years.
First would be to make the single measles vaccine once more available. It is known to be more effective and has virtually none of the extreme, albeit rare, adverse reactions associated with MMR. Many parents, rightly or wrongly concerned about the MMR, would be prepared to vaccinate their children, allowing us to achieve the level required for herd immunity.
Secondly to make use of the evidence showing that vitamin deficiency can increase the risk of infection and that supplementation can greatly improve children’s defences. As well as vitamin A, vitamin C can also reduce the duration, severity and risk of death from measles, as can zinc and probably vitamin D.
lesson for covid
As for any viral infection, from a cold to covid, taking 1 gram of vitamin C an hour for adults and half this for children until symptoms disappear, as Dr Klenner did in the 1940’s for measles, is a no brainer.
Much like covid-19, if more emphasis was placed on strengthening one’s immune system with vitamins, good nutrition, exercise and sun exposure rather than relying solely on vaccines the already miniscule risk of death from measles could be almost entirely eliminated. Recent evidence that those who die from covid-19 have vastly depleted vitamin C levels akin to scurvy; that those with low vitamin D are much more suspectible to infection; and that the use of intravenous vitamin C with steroids and anti-coagulants prevents virtually all deaths illustrates that vitamins play a vital part in preventing deaths for viral diseases as much as, if not more so, than vaccinations. (Read my book Flu Fighters for the details. I will also be laying out the facts on vitamin C and D in relation to covid-19 in my November 100% Health newsletter Issue 121.)
So, the real message from the example of the measles vaccine isn’t at all what the government intended. Rather than providing reassurance that all would be fine once we had a vaccine, it showed that natural lifestyle changes had saved many lives before that vaccine appeared and that the introduction of a follow up vaccine made the situation worse. It also demonstrated that an intelligent scepticism about government claims is well justified and that, in recent decades, government and medical awareness of the importance of nutrition has gone backward.
1. Edejer TT, Aikins M, Black R, Wolfson L, Hutubessy R, Evans DB. Cost effectiveness analysis of strategies for child health in developing countries. BMJ. 2005;331(7526):1177. doi:10.1136/bmj.38652.550278.7C
2. C. Sudfeld et al., ‘Effectiveness of measles vaccination and vitamin A treatment’
International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 39, Issue suppl_1, April 2010, Pages i48–i55, https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyq021
3. R. Foster , J. Lunn ‘40th Anniversary Briefing Paper: Food availability and our changing diet’ Nutrition Bulletin, 2007, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-3010.2007.00648.x
4. See reference above.
6. T.Jovic et al ‘Could Vitamins Helps in the Fight Against Covid-19?’Nutrients 2020, 12(9), 2550; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12092550